Small Scale, Big Change: New Architectures of Social Engagement

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Inner-City Arts

Michael Maltzan. Inner-City Arts

GLENN LOWRY: Inner City Arts is located in Skid Row in downtown Los Angeles, a neighborhood with the highest concentration of homeless people in the city. In 1993, the school hired architect Michael Maltzan to expand its facilities.

MICHAEL MALTZAN: The building was an old auto body shop, and was for the most part, an abandoned building that had an asphalt parking lot next to it. It had the potential to have a series of large roll up doors that could connect the inside and this outside parking lot.

And from the very beginning, the idea that you could make a space that in some ways, moved seamlessly between the inside and the outside seemed like an incredible quality of openness that the school could provide. This was in direct contrast to the kinds of buildings and spaces that the kids were in during their normal school day.

In that sense, we weren't just trying to make an art school; we were trying to make a more optimistic and potentially even utopian vision of the city.

We made that building white for a number of reasons. One was that the building while extremely sculptural in its forms, could take a step back and allow really the work that the children and the educators were making to be the most present thing visually on that campus.

But, the whiteness of that building was an attempt to see that if everything that people were saying in the neighborhood was true, that this was a place that nobody wanted to mess with. And after a number of years now, there has been no graffiti, no damage to the building. And that social compact that has been created between Inner City Arts and the surrounding neighborhood, continue to stand for some sense that it's still possible to make something that does point to a future of the city that is optimistic and beautiful.