In 1988, a recently-graduated, New York-born architect Michael Maltzan moved to Los Angeles with the strong conviction that he had an opportunity to make significant contributions. Almost thirty years later, his office works on a variety of contexts, programs, and scales worldwide that reflect a committed goal: to prove that architecture can be in all of the ways our cultures are built, not just in our cities nor buildings, but also within our societies. His recent projects include a new site for the largest public collection of Inuit Art in Canada, housing projects that respond to a significant homelessness crisis, and pieces that create new urban landscapes for a city in constant change such as LA. Below you can have a look at some projects under construction as well as read an extract from the interview conducted by Daniela Freiberg for NESS 2.
290 Colony Street, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.
While the largest public collection of Inuit Art in Canada is being built, a new residential project designed by MMA is also under construction just across from the Winnipeg Art Gallery. The 119-unit residential building for The University of Winnipeg Community Renewal Corporation 2.0 is comprised of a range of unit types with an integrated affordable housing component. The building is 14 stories tall, with a 15th level penthouse which houses mechanical equipment. The ground floor level contains 3,700 square feet of commercial program, street level parking, and new offices for the owner. On the 10th floor, amenity spaces and an adjacent rooftop terrace area provide shared common spaces for tenant use. The architectural concept for the building emphasizes the verticality of the massing by creating a “bundle” of five residential towers organized around a central circulation tower. The individual towers have varied footprints and heights to emphasize their individuality and give the massing a twisting bias. By maximizing the number of corner units, the residential suites are afforded sweeping views of the surrounding context, creating more powerful relationships between the building and the city of Winnipeg.
Sixth Street Viaduct
This transformative infrastructure project for the City of Los Angeles will replace the original 1932 bridge, and unite the Boyle Heights community to the east and the Arts District and Downtown to the west. The design is the product of an international design competition led by the City of Los Angeles Bureau of Engineering emphasizing the City’s collective commitment to making the new Sixth Street Viaduct an iconic and lasting landmark for LA. Understanding it as more than a simple replacement thoroughfare crossing the river, the project foresees a multimodal future for the City that accommodates cars, incorporates significant new bicycle connections, and also increases connectivity for pedestrian access along the entirety of the viaduct.
Extract from the Interview Published in NESS 2
Daniela Freiberg– In many of your projects you are creating new urban landscapes. The Sixth Street Viaduct is an example, but some housing projects, such as One Santa Fe, also work as an important piece for the city. In that sense, what do you consider to be the priorities for LA?
Michael Maltzan – If you look at the most pressing priorities, they are certainly around confronting the challenge of density. The city is getting more and more dense. Density is also creating another priority which is how to address affordability for those living in the city. Density is having a significant effect on many different generations’ abilities to live here and will certainly have an effect on the future of how the city evolves. It is having an effect on mobility, which in the past has been a way that the city has dealt with affordability. If you couldn’t afford to live in an area, you moved a little bit further outside the center, and you drove to wherever you worked. That is becoming harder and harder as well. Density is having social effects on different neighborhoods that are becoming increasingly gentrified, putting real pressure on established communities that are very often moderate to lower income communities and are in danger of being displaced. Resource management is also being driven by density and affordability.
LA has always been a place that has invented itself in response to whatever type of development and change was happening in the city. It has invented a way of dealing with its environment, it has invented a way of dealing with distance and the car, it has invented a way of even portraying itself in media. Much of this innovation was possible because the city has had an extremely open, creative culture. With these new pressures, one of the greatest challenges for LA is to try to invent its future on its own terms as opposed to merely importing other models from more traditional cities. In the face of this extraordinary pressure, how do we, as a culture, continue to invent responses to the challenges that face us? Responses that are uniquely our own. If we can do it, then I think we keep that culture of creativity and invention, which is fundamental in LA as it moves forward. We have the potential to really add something to the conversation: how do you address new and pressing urban challenges in an unexpected and imaginative way, that hopefully has some resonance for other cities around the world.
DF– Thinking about the role of the architect, and given your experience, where are we standing now and where do you think we are going?
MM– Clearly it is a very complex time. We are looking at questions around affordability, density, accessibility, mobility, equity—all of which architecture has some relationship to and is uniquely suited to grapple with. We have done a wide range of work in the office, housing is a part of it. We do institutional projects, commercial projects, more and more infrastructure, which is a growing interest. One of my goals for the office is to continue to try to prove, even if just to myself, that architecture has the capacity to be present in the widest range of ways in which we build our cultures. Not just in our cities, not just in our buildings, but literally in our societies and cultures. And all of these pieces: affordable housing, housing for the affluent, museums, infrastructure, are part of that equation. I don’t think that one is more important than the other, but the full range is something that as architects we need to continue to fight for and try to demand a role and a position in the conversations around what that mix is. How do cultures continue to build and how do they continue to define themselves? In the past, architecture has proven that it is an important part of that larger equation. The capacity and ability of architects and architecture is something we need to continue to advocate for. The world has become more and more specialized or filled with specialties, and architecture is one of the few disciplines that still has the capacity to work in very encompassing ways. It can take extremely complex problems, analyze them, and begin to produce a form that represents not only the issues at hand, but also one that starts to propose solutions to larger issues. Architecture can describe and represent that process and the potential solutions verbally and visually. That is a combination and a range of capabilities that in a complex world we undervalue and underutilize.