Michael Maltzan: Bridging Society and Culture in LA’s Infrastructure

Photo by Eric Richardson
Photo by Eric Richardson

by Justine Dodgen

Those who commute through downtown may have noticed the construction underway in the Arts District. The City of Los Angeles is busy creating alternative routes in preparation for the imminent rebuilding of the Sixth Street Viaduct, the iconic bridge in downtown L.A. that has been the backdrop of many L.A. films and music videos. The bridge, which has been declared structurally unsafe, will be replaced by not just another bridge, but an “interactive environment” designed by world renowned architect Michael Maltzan.

Photo by View from a Loft
Photo by View from a Loft

On October 20, the Bedrosian Center will host Michael Maltzan for Lunch with a Leader, where he will discuss how he has incorporated social consciousness into his eye-catching design for the new Sixth Street Bridge and been involved in many other civic projects.

Maltzan is now the leading architect behind many of modern L.A.’s iconic buildings, including the recently-completed One Santa Fe building. For him, there isn’t a distinction between doing work and doing socially responsible work. “It drives me nuts when people say, ‘It’s great, you’re doing socially conscious projects.’ As if all my other projects are socially unconscious,” he told Metropolis Magazine in 2012.

Maltzan instead asserts that his focus is on elasticity- the idea that architecture’s form and intent evolve to represent the values and the culture of their time. It is this elasticity that makes his work socially conscious, and which can be seen manifested in the fluidity and movement that are so characteristic of his designs.

Photo by Skid Row Housing Trust
Photo of Star Apartments by Skid Row Housing Trust

Regardless of what you call them, Maltzan has designed and led many civic-minded projects over the last decade. Starting what became a several-year partnership with the Skid Row Housing Trust in 2006, his imagination is behind the innovative designs of the Rainbow, New Carver, and Star Apartments, affordable housing buildings for the formerly homeless. He has also designed many projects in the arts and culture space, including the Inner City Arts campus, a school in downtown LA that provides arts education for public school students, the Kidspace Children’s Museum in Pasadena, and Playa Vista Central Park.

Now, what could be his lasting legacy in Los Angeles is his winning design for the new Sixth Street Viaduct. The current bridge, which spans the L.A. River from downtown’s Arts District to Boyle Heights, will soon be demolished and replaced with Maltzan’s stunning design.

Photo by Rome the Second Time
Photo of One Sante Fe by Rome the Second Time

A remarkable example of mixed use of public space, his design incorporates not only vehicle transportation but also biking lanes, pedestrian overlooks, a public park, and an amphitheater. As reported in the LA Times, Maltzan says, “One of the problems with infrastructure is that it’s generally constituted as a monoculture. It only does one thing.” His plan for the bridge defies this notion by striving for an interactive space that serves multiple uses for the public.

The idea that infrastructure serves multiple purposes is particularly important given the bridge’s location between downtown L.A. and Boyle Heights, Maltzan says. As these neighborhoods evolve, the bridge project can serve as an opportunity to “break down divisions” and the “siloization of different neighborhoods,” making Los Angeles a more socially and cultural cohesive city. “As the city continues to develop, developing these connections becomes of even great consequence.” (LA Times)

Join us October 20 to learn more about Maltzan’s ideas for how infrastructure can be reimagined to serve not only functional, but social and cultural aspirations.

Photo from KCRW
Photo from KCRW