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Architect Michael Maltzan On Where Cities Are Going

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Los Angeles Times architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne spoke with beloved local architect Michael Maltzan at the Central Library Tuesday night as part of the LAPL's ALOUD series about "The Contemporary City: Urbanism in Flux," and somehow poor Frank Gehry (Maltzan's old boss) kept getting dissed. Hawthorne asked about Gehry's criticism that Maltzan's designs pull punches. Maltzan nicely said he believed an older generation (zing!) of architects believed in a paternal idea of architecture, "a single author against all odds," and that's "not necessarily so progressive." And this was what Maltzan was getting at the whole discussion--that architecture can't be about the "large, singular gesture" anymore, that it has be one part of a "more nuanced collaboration" involving landscape architects, urban planners, and the city itself.

Maltzan came to Los Angeles because "the project of Modernism had been so thorough" here, and the city had since the late nineteenth century been engaged with Modernism in some way. Only now, he said, is Los Angeles coming to consider Modernism on a bigger scale, as an approach to the city in whole. Maltzan also said he believed the recession could provoke that kind of engagement--out of work architects might have nothing better to do than figure out where cities are going and how to take them there (for instance, on blogs, which Maltzan called "sprawling and unfocused," but in a good way, we're pretty sure).

He laid out the ideas he believes are crucial to architecture's part in the future of cities, illustrated by examples of his own and other's work. He cited Rem Koolhaas's Seattle Public Library's engagement of public space, the sustainability integrated into his own Playa Vista Park project, and the interconnectedness of his upcoming Jet Propulsion Laboratory building, which will have a series of outdoor and meeting spaces spiraling vertically up around the building. He talked about dense building and the difference between infill and "found sites" that are specifically designed to, like his downtown One Santa Fe mixed-use project, which will be long to fit into the space and to reiterate the shape of the train tracks and the river. He said, "Buildings might be seen as objects, but they have to aspire to be fabric."

During the question and answer session, a woman asked if the city had "blown it" with the siting of its schools, and Maltzan agreed it had. He said he wanted the idea of schools as cultural hubs to have been considered, that putting schools between neighborhoods and near transit could have helped integrate the city. He was asked about all the development activity happening downtown, and answered that downtown has "arrived" more than once since he came to Los Angeles, but this is the first time there is momentum in the revitalization. And, toward the end, when a questioner asked for Maltzan's architectural review of Gehry's Grand Avenue work, Maltzan politely sidestepped, saying only that a city can't rely on a single project to transform it.
· Michael Maltzan Wins Another Award [Curbed LA]
· Playa Vista's Planned 7.9 Acre Central Park [Curbed LA]
· Whatever Happened To Downtown's One Santa Fe?* [Curbed LA]
· Gehry Designs A Gehry [Curbed LA]