Excerpt: 'No More Play' by Michael Maltzan


From The Design Observer:

I chose to live in Los Angeles. For many who come to this city, the decision to do so is often based on a job, family, a relationship, convenience, political reality, the weather, school, cars, art, science, media, hope, music, the beach, opportunity, or a random turn in life. My desire to be a part of Los Angeles was undeniable and decisive. I was drawn to Los Angeles because it seemed real — perhaps the most real place I had ever known or been exposed to in my life. I had spent most of my childhood on the East Coast in traditionally suburban and nonurban American towns. In college, I moved to Providence and Boston, which can easily be described as traditional cities and urban centers. Those cities never seemed to fit, leaving me with a nagging sense of incompleteness. Looking back, I needed more complexity.

At first impression, during a week-long trip to Los Angeles while in graduate school, the city presented itself to me as a series of colliding events and interactions. Multiple cultures and landscapes emerged through the light of the overexposed horizon in flashes of contradiction: fertile and arid, dark and blinding, restrictive and generous — spaces ripe with inconsistency. Slowly, the city’s form revealed itself around me, incomplete and genuine. I knew at that first moment that Los Angeles condensed all of the challenges and all of the possibilities of the contemporary city and resembled the future of what was to come. At first, my reaction to Los Angeles was the opposite of the reaction of most people, who find the relentlessness frightening, numbing or overwhelming. Instead, the sprawling, horizontal city-plane; the peculiar, verdant confusions of nature and garden; the mineral-like opacity of the light; and the constant pace of movement were eerily familiar and comfortable. Los Angeles felt like home.

I grew up in Levittown, in the middle of Long Island, New York — a postwar suburban development. Developments like Levittown — built by William Levitt in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s — were self-contained communities of houses, schools and shopping centers planned around the automobile. Slowly the newness of these developments wore off, and people began to adapt to the formally sterile, endless rows of cookie-cutter homes. While Los Angeles and Levittown have had different life cycles, they share this primal makeup in their inception, making both cities familiar, development-centric American landscapes.

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All photographs by Iwan Baan, from No More Play