Studio E Architects has designed a $12.5 million affordable housing project on a tiny lot in North Park on the corner of Mississippi Street and El Cajon Boulevard that will include Mama’s Bakery and Deli on the ground floor.
The Studio E project, named Mississippi for its location at Mississippi Street and El Cajon Boulevard, has 61 apartments in a mix of studios, one-bedroom and two-bedroom flats ranging from 420 square feet to 900 square feet.
Mississippi was especially challenging to design because the six-story building of about 51,000 square feet had to be sandwiched into what Studio E Principal John Sheehan said was a lot of about one-quarter acre.
“On a small lot, I think we did a good job of putting something in there that will fit El Cajon Boulevard for years to come,” said Maxine Ward, a principal of Studio E.
Ward said Mississippi apartments is indicative of how El Cajon Boulevard is changing.
“In the evolution of El Cajon Boulevard, you’re starting to see denser things, and I think that’s a good thing,” Ward said.
To make the project economically feasible, the building itself couldn’t have fewer apartments, Sheehan said.
“The challenge for us was to fit that number in and try not to be just creating a rabbit warren but actually creating and providing some living space,” Sheehan said. “There’s work from home lounges, that flexible space that someone could use as an office for a few hours or have a zoom call or something or conduct a meeting. There is a pretty sweet lounge on the first floor that has a community kitchen in it, a big television, kind of a party meeting space.”
A 1,177-square-foot courtyard with planters was designed to give the building a more indoor/outdoor feel as does a tree house terrace on the third level, and a 220-square-foot barbecue deck on the fifth level.
The decks at the corner of Mississippi Street and El Cajon Boulevard give a view up and down El Cajon Boulevard, Ward said.
The retail space of about 2,000 square feet that was leased to Mama’s Kitchen has an outdoor dining patio to help the building blend in with the commercial strip along El Cajon Boulevard – and give it a neighborhood feel.
“We’re trying to activate the street,” Sheehan said.
The building also steps back from the corner of Mississippi Street and El Cajon Boulevard, with the corner cut back rather than built all the way out to the property line.
“You have to be a contributor to the neighborhood and that’s one of the ways you can do that, make it a soft corner,” Sheehan said. “It’s the balance between efficiency and trying to make it not a big box.”
The façade also jogs in and out to make the building look less boxy.
“We describe it as corduroy. It’s kind of got that corduroy look on the façade,” Ward said. “Along the Mississippi side of the building, we’re breaking it up by these really deep notches that have a little color in them so we’re getting away from the box.”
Studio E Architects
Principals: Eric Naslund, John Sheehan, Mathilda Bialk and Maxine Ward
Headquarters: Bankers Hill
Notable: The firm has received numerous design awards, including three National American Institute of Architects Honor Awards, Two ULI Global Awards of Excellence and two Chicago Atheneum American Architecture Awards.