Audacious private homes, diverse cultural buildings, but above all innovative and high-quality projects for the socially disadvantaged - in Los Angeles, architect Michael Maltzan is building oases for our future way of life.
Los Angeles: So how to improve people´s lives?
The design for Inner-City Arts
Architecture for all
Maltzan’s philosophy of “architecture for all,” his social engagement and his belief that architecture can improve the lives of all people irrespective of wealth may also be typically American. After all, most Americans have ancestors who once fled to the New World to escape the ravages of famine and persecution - perhaps most poignantly expressed in the poem by Emma Lazarus at the Statue of Liberty in New York: “Give me your tired, your poor / Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free / the wretched refuse of your teeming shore.” It is an American tradition to believe in these tired, poor, encumbered, rejected people; to believe in society’s marginalized and forgotten.
A fundamental shift in spatial thinking
However, it is not just the fact that Maltzan’s houses restore dignity and opportunities to the poorest in society that makes them so important. In particular the apartment dwellings he builds for the middle classes are designs for the end of a consumer world that has existed since the 1950s. It was a world where every family purchased a bungalow, countless electronic devices and at least two cars in order to travel to work from the suburbs, and where the number of consumers grew solely due to the need to acquire all of these things individually. Since then, the lion’s share of all wages has been spent on rent or property loans, cars and interior fittings. Is there any other way? Could we lead a more relaxed existence by sharing things and spaces intelligently? By living in the heart of the city instead of spending hours every morning commuting to work from the outskirts? Maltzan’s structural responses, his residential complexes, represent a fundamental shift in spatial thinking. It is architects like Ryue Nishizawa, Yoshiharu Tsukamoto or Sou Fujimoto in Japan and above all Maltzan and his colleagues in America who are re-imagining our concept of urban spaces almost by themselves. Rather than dividing a city into streets, squares and apartments, they build houses like miniature cities in which eight children from four residential units can play together in a protective yard setting. They design micro-villages in which pensioners, other children or the single graphic designer can act as a surrogate family to the child whose father works in another city from Monday to Friday, to the widower, to the visitor. These new living environments are built around a new culture of hospitality with restaurant-like collective kitchens and loggia-style semi-open spaces shared by multiple residences, where people can hold communal barbecues during the summer. These innovative clusters let people check in with children or parents during work breaks, or meet friends on park-like rooftop landscapes. The buildings adapt to changing living needs and the separation of working and living has been removed as far as possible - a room can become an office, an apartment for a friend, or even a workshop.