Walls and courtyards have defined much of Southern California’s architecture since the Spanish built the first missions in the 18th century. These elements shape and inform Inner-City Arts, a 1-acre oasis for at-risk kids surrounded by the dull gray boxes of Los Angeles’s Skid Row. Like those early mission buildings, Inner-City Arts balances demands for protection and learning, connection and individual identity. And like its religious predecessors, it has grown over time, getting spatially and programmatically richer with each expansion.
“I wanted to create a compressed urbanism,” states Michael Maltzan, FAIA, who took on the project as his first job in 1993 after leaving Frank Gehry’s office and has worked on each of the three phases since then. “The idea was to craft an urban village with a series of indoor and outdoor spaces,” explains Maltzan, who collaborated with Marmol Radziner and Associates on the first phase and with landscape architect Nancy Goslee Power and the graphic-design firm Ph.D on all three. From the beginning, the design team emphasized the visitor’s experience walking through the campus—catching partial views of a building or yard just around the corner and enjoying a range of sunny or shaded outdoor rooms.