Michael Maltzan, FAIA, Says Public Housing Must Anticipate the Future

On 03.29.17, the conversation surrounding the future of public housing returned to the Center for Architecture. Housing by Los Angeles-based architect Michael Maltzan, FAIA, Design Principal, Michael Maltzan Architecture, has won numerous awards within the past year including the American Architecture Award, the AIA Los Angeles Gold Medal Honoree, and two Residential Architecture Design awards. Architect and AIANY Housing Committee co-chair Fernando Villa, AIA, LEED, AP BD+C, introduced Maltzan’s work, calling it “always inspiring, innovative and thoughtful.” He noted too how architecture can be “a bulwark” against a government that is increasingly unconcerned for people relying on public assistance.

Maltzan began with a brief overview of the theoretical and academic underpinnings of his firm’s work. “I was raised with an education that saw housing as a fundamental typology,” he said. “I came to believe that architecture was an agent of change and progress. Housing is at the center of that belief.”

The goal of the firm, Maltzan said, is to reconcile the evolving pressures on contemporary cities—density, affordability and community being the main concerns—with the possibilities of architecture to mitigate these pressures with inspiring and forward-thinking design. He presented four public housing buildings that flawlessly marry beauty, utility and social consciousness. These included: The New Carver apartments, Crest apartments, Star apartments and One Santa Fe.

The first three buildings are all funded by the Skid Row Housing Trust and support a variety of residents in need of affordable housing, including homeless veterans, elderly and the disabled. Each building eloquently answers the pleas of its residents, either through on-site social services, larger green footprints, accelerated construction times or design oriented around community-creation. “This architecture has a therapeutic component,” Maltzan said. “It helps to break people out of their shells.”

One Santa Fe is a mixed-use development, currently very popular with SCI-Arc students. It includes residential, commercial and recreation spaces. One Santa Fe is an attempt at what Maltzan called “anticipatory urbanism,” which responds to a projected need for housing in an area before the demand becomes clarion. “Over time you can start to imagine the influence these projects have on the city,” Maltzan remarked. “Architecture is elastic; you can do strong, positive, progressive projects and change the future.”

During the Q&A, Maltzan returned to his history with Modernism and the influence he draws from it today. “While I’m still suspicious of some Modernist ideas, at that time people were discussing what architecture could do, what architects could give,” he said. “I think there is a renewed interest in expanding the role of architecture in our society again.”

Maltzan’s eye for the future doesn’t stop at public housing—he noted that he had begun exploring ideas for new typologies that would repurpose underused parking lots. Still, it seems like Maltzan’s projects may be segregated to the West Coast. When asked about the difference between working in California versus New York, Maltzan held nothing back. “It’s a lot cooler there,” he laughed. “You can get things made in L.A.”