Despite the freeway’s proximity, passing cars created only a dull background hum—almost like the crashing of waves—thanks to the building’s sound-deflecting shape and acoustic glass. From a window in a stairwell we gazed out at drivers on the freeway, while they gazed back at what could be an upscale designer-condo tower.
“Almost by definition, public housing is mean and minimal, because it is difficult to create anything of enduring quality and beauty without money,” Betsky would later tell me. “It’s fantastic for a change to have a piece of social housing that is iconic. Michael deserves great kudos for that.”
One can’t help but wonder if Maltzan suffers any disorientation from working one moment on Skid Row and the next on houses for a privileged elite. During the Ovitz dinner, I ask if there is any contradiction between the two. Instead of being defensive, Maltzan embraces the question enthusiastically. “Architecture is an elastic art,” he says, as though he relishes stretching it to accommodate every challenge and budget—on the one hand offering dignified shelter to the dispossessed, while on the other giving shape to a rich man’s outsize and contradictory ambitions.
Ovitz first met Maltzan around the time of “The Un-Private House,” whose survey of recent homes included Rem Koolhaas’s Maison à Bordeaux as well as Maltzan’s effort for Beverly Hills art collectors Alan Hergott and Curt Shepard. At the time, the former agent was living in a Thirties neo-Georgian he had bought early in his career and expanded higgledy-piggledy. “Every time I made $10,000 as an agent, I added another room,” Ovitz recalls, describing the outcome with a story about architect Robert A.M. Stern. “He came for dinner one night. He walks into the foyer, looks around, and says, shaking his head, ‘Michael, this house is really a piece of shit.’” When, in 1999, Ovitz finally decided to build his dream home, he turned to Riley for advice. The curator gave Ovitz three names to consider. Ovitz examined their work and interviewed all three, but says he made his final decision when he went to a dinner at the Hergott-Shepard residence. “There was nothing in the house that I didn’t like,” he says. “It was an A-plus-plus.”
Hergott, an entertainment attorney who represents Brad Pitt, and Shepard, director of the Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center’s youth-services program, had hired Maltzan on the strength of the late art dealer Stuart Regen’s recommendation. “It was a big break,” says Maltzan.
Hergott and Shepard asked for rooms that could house an evolving collection of contemporary works, almost in the manner of a kunsthalle. “We knew we wanted to be flexible, and we didn’t want any spaces to be built for a particular piece,” says Shepard. “But then there is this challenge of, you know, how to capture the view.”