Home tour

In downtown L.A., on a street that comes to an end where the Santa Monica freeway whizzes by overhead, architect Michael Maltzan has built a new apartment building called the Carver Apartments.

There are a few things that are unusual about this. One is the shape: the building is like a doughnut – a cylinder of apartments, with a courtyard in the center that looks up to the sky.

The other unusual thing is that these apartments were built for the Skid Row Housing Trust, so the tenants are formerly homeless people. The 97 studio apartments are small – 304 square feet – but bright, with windows facing the courtyard and outside.

I went to Carver Apartments last week to see a musician friend, Mary McBride, do a show there. She’s done many tours, both in the U.S. and abroad, but this time she decided to do something different. She and her band are taking their Home Tour not to clubs and bars, but to prisons, homeless shelters and other places where people don’t ordinarily get to see live music.

At each stop, Mary invites a few local residents to get up and sing with the band. They each choose a song – something with a readily identifiable blues riff or chord progression – and then have a short run-through with the band before taking the stage. At Carver Apartments, four residents sang, and it was fantastic to watch. This guy brought the house down with a foot-stomping gospel song:

This man was less of a showman, singing a soft, low number with a quiet intensity. I didn’t meet him, but someone told me he lost most of his family in Hurricane¬†Katrina.

This woman also sang a gospel-flavored song. There was a lot of hand-waving and “Yes, Lord!”-ing among the audience, some of whom were hearing their neighbors sing for the first time.

After the residents did their thing, Mary took to the stage and performed “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”:

… Which brought this woman, who wore a spangly purple gown for the event, to tears:

It was an awesome afternoon.

5 responses to “Home tour”

  1. Stella says:

    Love the insider view of the Maltzan buiding…pretty fabulous…did it feel like a place you’d want to live? Did the courtyard space work?

    And yay for Mary McBride.

  2. swells says:

    The space itself, the designated purpose of the space, the focus of your friend’s tour, the participation of the residents, the fact that you went to witness it–every single thing about this is so inspiring.

  3. Tim says:

    What Swells said. Seriously.

  4. LP says:

    1: Yes, the courtyard worked – it was so refreshing to have an open-air space like that, and the asymmetrical design of the vertical steel fins made the whole thing that much more visually interesting. The Architecture Magazine article linked to above has great insights into Maltzan’s design choices; for a non-student of architecture, like me, it’s fascinating to see how much thought and creativity goes into design elements the layperson never even notices.

    2-3: It really was an inspiring afternoon. I felt lucky to be there.

  5. J-Man says:

    Wow. This brought tears to my eyes – especially the expression on the woman’s face in the purple. Amazing what a little outreach can do!
    The building reminds me of La Pedrera apt. building in Barcelona: http://www.flickr.com/photos/root-2/3719913448/