Playa Vista Bandshell by Michael Maltzan

By day it’s a brilliant white turban, or a scoop of ice cream hollowed out; by night it glows like a Japanese lantern, afloat in a dark sea of grass. Michael Maltzan’s bandshell is an astonishingly light affair, a sheet of canvas stretched over a dramatic curve of scaffolding that Maltzan likens to “bones set under the skin”. If it wasn’t anchored to a simple concrete stage it looks as though it could be blown away by the ocean breeze. Maltzan explains: “I was interested in the structure being light and hovering, with no obvious support, like a top spinning.” The bandshell’s sail-like connotations are appropriate for its site, the new Playa Vista Central Park in West Los Angeles, near the marina and a mile from the ocean.

Maltzan designed the nine-acre park in collaboration with the Office of James Burnett,a local landscaping firm, and the play of built and landscaped elements is complex and delightful. A berm facing the bandshell forms an amphitheatre of shorn grass, its bevelled edges covered with wild mounds of longer grass to make a strong textural clash.A playground features more green mounds (covered in recycled rubber), containing tunnels for children to clamber through, and there are areas for soccer, volleyball and basketball. A river that hosts a water filtration system snakes through under bridges of raw granite and spills into dark pools. Maltzan envisioned “a choreography of activities” as an antidote to our increasing social disconnectedness, adding, “I didn’t just want it to be something to look at, but more like a college campus, a place where people gathered to work, play, socialise and see a performance.”

In the gardens, a strong formalism prevails, with flat pyramidal mounds striped with bands of native succulents in dusty pinks, mustards and rusts. The compelling geometric theme extends to the rows of round cacti and spiky grasses aswell as the wedge and ring-shaped wooden benches.An aerial view reveals the park as a neat set of lines, circles and triangles. “It’s our best-looking project as seen from Google Earth,” Maltzan says.

On the Sunday afternoonI spent there, the park was sparsely populated, still waiting for the masses that 
will soon fill its new nearby condominiums and planned office buildings. Although it wasn’t fully manifested as 
the social space Maltzan wants it to be, it will become that soon enough.

Published in Icon magazine.

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