Rome Travel Guide

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Saturday, November 1, 2014

Maltzan's One Sante Fe: the Rome roots of an LA project

One Sante Fe, Los Angeles.  The cut-out is at center left, one of the parking ramps just beyond.  Note the angled, protuding windows on the upper level.  
He must have been there.  To Rome, that is.  RST ventured to the fringe of Los Angeles' downtown, due passi from the arts district, to see the nearly completed building known as One Sante Fe, after its street address.  We were attracted to the structure by architectural critic Christopher Hawthorne's lengthy and complex review in the LA Times.  While Hawthorne notes that some have seen the enormous building--435 apartments, office space for the staff of LA Metro, a quarter mile [.4 km] end-to-end--as a "kind of gentrification ocean liner, slowly drifting toward dock," his own take is more positive.  "What gives the...project its unusual symbolic power is that it takes the generic stuff of a typical L.A. apartment building--a wood frame slathered in white stucco and lifted above a concrete parking deck--and expands it dramatically to urban scale."
The cut-out, from inside

We loved the sheer size of the thing, the front cut-out/opening [right] that allows access to an interior space created by two wings, the fan-like protrusions for each of the windows, and the two delicious circular parking ramps, one at the end and one in the middle--destined to be painted Calder red, if the model in the sales office is accurate.

The parking ramp.  We hope it gets painted red.  

The architect is 55 year-old Michael Maltzan, once of Frank Gehry's office, and he's the guy we think may have been to Rome.  It's not just that Rome and Los Angeles are both low-rise cities, built close to the ground [LA's has skyscrapers, but they're located in defined districts], or that LA's latest

Architect Michael Maltzan
apartment buildings share the "mixed use" formula--commerce on the ground floor--that has shaped Rome's street ambience for centuries.

Beyond that, Rome has two structures that we couldn't help but think of as we walked the length of One Sante Fe and poked around in its courtyards.  .


One is known as Corviale, a massive, horizontal housing complex located southwest of Rome's center, near via Portuense. Completed in the 1980s, the complex has a reputation as a failed experiment in dense public housing--1202 apartments, stretched out over a kilometer.  To be sure, it lacks the complexity of One Sante Fe--the two wings at its southern end, one straight, one bent, the charming urban space in between--and it suffers from a deadly uniformity of color--it's all grey concrete--and design [no cutout, no circular parking ramps]. One would never call it playful.

Even so, Corviale's linear monumentality, unique as far as we know, lends it credibility as a predecessor of One Sante Fe.

Morandi's Metronio Market, rear 

The other Rome building is Riccardo Morandi's Metronio Market, completed in 1957.  It has two features that link forward to Maltzan's structure. One is the angled windows on the long facade, not unlike the much more subtle protusions of the LA building.

Ramp's the key 

The other, more obvious, is its stunning circular parking garage: shades of Luigi Moretti's ex-GIL staircase in Rome--check it out on the blog--and of Frank Lloyd Wright's Guggenheim.  And now of Maltzan's One Sante Fe.

We can't confirm, yet, whether Maltzan has ever been to Rome, or even Italy.  Among his influences are Alvar Alto and Le Corbusier, neither Italian.  Yet Maltzan's firm has designed for a Milan project, and his work has appeared at the Venice Biennale.  More germane, he acknowledges deep familiarity with Palladio's 16th-century Italian villas and an especially strong affinity for the forms and spaces of Francesco Borromini's Baroque Roman church, San Carlo delle Quattro Fontane.  Of course, he may have just seen it in a book.   Bill

The One Santa Fe Fantasy

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