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Star Apartments - Social Housing Complex

Michael Maltzan Architecture

Star Apartments - Social Housing Complex
By Raymund Ryan -

A decade ago, Michael Maltzan’s first solo museum exhibition was titled, simply, “Alternate Ground”. Maltzan’s early independent work exhibited a talent for sculptural form-making, a trait shared with older LA architects like Frank Gehry, Thom Mayne, and Eric Owen Moss. More indicative, however, of Maltzan’s particular contribution to design culture was his attention to topography and to perception, to physical and visual experience as the human body encounters and moves through building mass and morphology.

Such calibration of constructed landscape has served Maltzan well, from luxurious residential projects like the art-filled abode of a mogul in Beverly Hills to the vivid and animated public park recently completed as part of the Playa Vista urban redevelopment near LAX. The title “Alternate Ground” signals moreover not only the potential for carving, it evokes a radical vision of the built environment with multiple layers of shared functions.

This priority given to communal activity both at the street and above ground level is now manifest at the Star Apartments in Downtown Los Angeles. Maltzan’s design team inherited a low-rise commercial building and a brief to house a hundred or so individuals in dire need of basic shelter. They reconfigured the existing structure as shared or public facilities and stacked prefabricated accommodation units overhead. The new composite structure of individual units rises and falls in profile; it is perched on dramatic diagonal struts containing escape stairs. Perpendicular to the sidewalk, one tranche of space in the pre-existing building functions as a discreet decompression chamber from the street. This spacious hall has been remodeled as a bright and airy foyer with a characteristic Maltzan palette of colour, tubular light pendants, and an open staircase ascending to the residential component on upper levels.

Star residents have in many cases...

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