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Above:Michael Maltzan is particularly concerned with the way architecture both digs into and extends above the earth’s surface, which is why the exhibition was named Michael Maltzan: Alternate Ground.

Above right: An artist’s rendering of the Sonoma County Museum Project,
Michael Maltazan Architecture.



“His work is about the human experience of buildings. One immediately senses this from the open spaces he creates between buildings.”




Appreciating Architecture Through Alternate Ground

Michael Maltzan, the subject of a new exhibition on view in Carnegie Museum of Art’s Heinz Architectural Center, is making a difference with his designs for institutions and cities in the United States and abroad.

One of several roles of the Heinz Architectural Center is to present the work of emerging architects—local, national, and international—to a Pittsburgh audience. Unlike some contemporaries, Michael Maltzan not only proposes provocative and sensuous new building forms, he is also busy with the processes of construction. Based in Los Angeles, Maltzan and his colleagues are out there on building sites making a difference in the future of our institutions and cities.

Michael Maltzan: Alternate Ground, currently on view in the Heinz Architectural Center through June 12, is the first complete exhibition dedicated to Michael Maltzan Architecture. It comes at a time when Maltzan, having acquired a remarkable reputation since establishing his firm in
1995, is beginning to acquire commissions and win competitions abroad.

Malztan made his mark nationally with his design of MoMA’s temporary home in Queens.
photo: Christian Richters

Two of Maltzan’s best-known projects, which are among 12 detailed models presented in the exhibition, are the Hergott/Shepard Residence in Beverly Hills and MoMA QNS, the Museum of Modern Art’s temporary facility in a disused factory on Long Island. The Hergott/Shepard Residence, which was included in The Un-Private House exhibition at New York’s Museum of Modern Art in 1999, is a beautifully crafted sequence of spaces from an understated front entrance through high, carefully lit volumes out to a spectacular panorama of Los Angeles far below. One of the strengths of Maltzan’s design for the residence is the fact that it does not overpower the clients’ impressive collection of art, which is large and likely to change over time.

Following Maltzan’s successes with the Hergott/Shepard Residence and MoMA QNS, he has become known as an architect especially sensitive to issues of how to accommodate art, whether in private homes or in public museums. This is, in part, why he appeared an ideal choice for architect of the 2004–5 Carnegie International, on view at Carnegie Museum of Art through March 20. In the International, Maltzan’s work is most evident in the design of the pedestals and cases for the work of Mangelos, Kathy Butterly, and Robert Crumb. Many of his other interventions are necessarily discreet and almost invisible.

The Hergott/Shepard Residence in Beverly Hills, Ca., designed by Michael Maltzan Architecture, was included in The Un-Private House exhibition at New York’s Museum of Modern art in 1999. Photo: Richard Barnes

Maltzan’s affinity with art and the needs of museums has led to commissions for the UCLA Hammer Museum in Westwood, Los Angeles, and radical new structures for the Fresno Metropolitan Museum and the Sonoma County Museum further north in California. In the case of the UCLA Hammer Museum, as the existing building’s problems could not be resolved using orthodox architectural tactics, Maltzan cleverly assembled an interdisciplinary team of graphic, landscape, and lighting designers to direct the renovation.

The title of the Heinz Architectural Center exhibition is Alternate Ground because Maltzan is particularly concerned with the way architecture both digs into and extends above the earth’s surface. An animation in the exhibition consisting of drawings of 12 key projects that dissolve one into the next sets up this idea of “ground.” Both the Fresno and Sonoma projects illustrate this
evolving theme in Maltzan’s work. The new architecture incorporates some existing buildings, making them elements in a complex assemblage without in any way mimicking or replicating them. At the same time, Maltzan’s architecture typically descends and ascends, via exposed stairs or—better yet—ramped, floors to instigate a complex, pleasurable promenade through the new interiors.

The Jinhua model is one of many that will be featured in the exhibition.

Some Modernist architects tried similar moves several decades ago. However, Maltzan has absorbed the lessons of recent urban theory (he graduated from Harvard’s Graduate School of Design in 1987) and Postmodernism (he worked for Frank Gehry, LA’s most famous architect, from 1988 to 1995). His work is about the human experience of buildings. One immediately senses this from the open spaces he creates between buildings—especially useful, of course, in sunny California—and in the interiors where visitors tend to be drawn onward by shifting views and the clever manipulation of natural light.

One of the challenges for the Heinz Architectural Center is to present architecture—typically buildings of stone, concrete, and steel, sometimes situated thousands of miles away or no longer in existence—to visitors, many of whom might be unfamiliar with architectural drawings and other modes of presentation. Michael Maltzan: Alternate Ground will alleviate such impediments to enjoyment and understanding of the work, as it is almost entirely an exhibition of models.
A series of almost 200 models documents the processes through which Maltzan and his team of architects studied issues of shape, material, and the adjacency of component parts. Thus, visitors are able to trace the evolution of particular aspects of projects. Collectively these fragments of various projects begin to suggest an urban landscape.

In addition to Maltzan’s key projects in the United States, the exhibition includes three from abroad—in Canada, China, and Milan—proof indeed that Maltzan is an architect succeeding in today’s global arena. A full-color catalogue has been produced for the exhibition. Marking the internationalization of Maltzan’s career, the book includes texts by acclaimed artist Ai Weiwei (Beijing) and writer and urbanist Mirko Zardini (Milan), as well as full accounts of the 16 projects on view.

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