Can the New 6th Street Viaduct Help Transform L.A.?

The bridge replacement is carrying more weight than mere traffic

This year it’s out with the old as demolition begins today on one of the city’s icons, the 6th Street Viaduct. Since 1932, the bridge has joined Boyle Heights with the eastern reaches of downtown across the Los Angeles River; it’s also served as a dystopian stage in a Terminator sequel and Fear the Walking Dead. A chemical reaction has weakened the viaduct’s concrete supports, turning it into a seismic hazard. An expanse of wavy white arches that looks like the time-lapse trajectory of an inexhaustible Easter Bunny, the new 6th Street Viaduct is being designed by Michael Maltzan. The Silver Lake-based architect hopes it will be the symbol of a city bounding joyfully into the future when it opens in 2019.

The old viaduct sped cars and trucks across a chasm; Maltzan’s design also allows pedestrians and bike riders to pause for selfies along the way or dip toward the banks of the L.A. River and a soccer field.
“The challenge as the city evolves is to hang onto the identity of particular communities while allowing them to have stronger connections. It is true we are a city of many cultures, but I don’t know that we’re actually a multicultural city yet—meaning a city that is much more interwoven in the way its cultures relate to each other. So for me the 6th Street bridge is, hopefully, a successful experiment in using infrastructure to move from a series of monocultures into a more broad and true multiculture.”

Exuberance is a throughline in Maltzan’s portfolio, from the warp-factor forward motion of his Billy Wilder Theater at the Hammer Museum to the floating plateaus in his master plan for the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena.
“Los Angeles—without getting too abstract—is a temporal city, marked by constant evolution, change, and mobility. We’re almost always in some form of movement. You can make the connection to one of our most important art forms: the cinema. There’s something very deeply written into our culture and our expectation about the city that’s based on the transitional, the ephemeral, and the fleeting—a fact we should continue to embrace.”

Illustration by Nigel Buchanan
Illustration by Nigel Buchanan

Maltzan designed Michael Ovitz’s residence as well as four apartment buildings for the Skid Row Housing Trust.
“We’ve been trying to work against the balkanization of the homeless community, understanding that you can’t keep dumping this community on skid row and expect that will make for a healthier community and a healthier city as a whole.”

The impermanence of L.A.’s built environment is no vice.
“In many ways the structure of L.A. not only allows but seems to beg for constant reinvention, constant reevaluation and the remaking of our urban-scape. The challenge is that you don’t have a longer history of doing things in a particular way to help guide you. But given how contemporary and new many of these challenges are, the freedom to approach these problems in clear, new, and appropriate ways is one of the real advantages that Los Angeles has.”