Reflecting on the Contemporary City of Los Angeles

In this excerpt from a new book on Los Angeles, L.A.-based architect Michael Maltzan reflects on the city, and how its clashes and evolving identity are part of why it represents the future of cities.
May 25, 2011, 10am PDT | Nate Berg
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Excerpted from No More Play, Maltzan writes about growing up in Levittown and the constantly changing and complex Los Angeles.

"Observing Levittown on its own terms at such an early age erased any preconceptions I had of what defined a real city. I did not fixate on iconic or singular forms, nor was I fascinated with the everyday. Subtle qualities and diverse, ambient experiences stood out in the repetitious and seemingly monochromatic Levittown landscape. I found order and connective threads in the subtly shifting patterns across the façades of the tract houses, the calculated variations of shingle types, the periodic blooms of wild weeds in the storm sumps, the intense light in a place with immature trees, and the landscape of the in-between. My familiarity with Levittown caused me to distrust the traditional context of cities and instead focus on the equally compelling subtle characteristics of place. I developed techniques of discrimination and perceptual tool sets with which I could identify specific environmental qualities, rather than evaluating a city by the generic tools of traditional formal urban thinking.

I returned to Los Angeles two years later as a permanent resident and fell back into the sprawling environment, wondering if my newly minted education in architecture would help or blunt my capacity to understand subtleties in the urban setting. Perhaps I had previously romanticized the relentless terrain of Los Angeles. But by the time of my return, my perception of the scale of the city had changed. It was now an unending conveyor belt of diversity and iteration. As I look back, I recall memories from that time of successive, lovely, serpentine journeys through and across the city. As a montage of images and impressions, the memories have no beginning or end - just the pleasure I found while riding within an unspooling stream of experiences."

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Published on Tuesday, May 24, 2011 in Places
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