Re-thought LACMA design would span Wilshire Boulevard

Click on the rendering to see larger.

Swiss architect Peter Zumthor has revised his proposed design for new buildings at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art to prevent encroaching on the adjacent La Brea Tar Pits. The new plan adds a bold new feature. New glass-encased museum galleries would cross above Wilshire Boulevard and connect the main LACMA campus with an addition to be built on the existing parking lot on the south side of the boulevard at Spaulding Avenue. And you know — it looks pretty interesting. The only structures to span Wilshire Boulevard now are the 405 freeway and Tony DeLap's artistic arch, The Big Wave, at the city limits of Santa Monica — unless you count the Santa Claus display over a busy intersection in Beverly Hills during the Christmas season. There was a bridge built over Wilshire at Western Avenue for the grand opening around 1930 or so of the theater that became the Wiltern, but it was only temporary. (Plans in the same era for ceremonial arches along Wilshire to direct motorists to the west end of town were never realized.)

From Jori Finkel's story in the New York Times:

The proposed exhibition hall, which would replace four aging buildings if approved by Los Angeles County, has been compared to a water lily, an ink stain and a Jean Arp sculpture for its free-form, organic shape. Now it is acting more amoebalike, squeezing into a new space across Wilshire that is now a parking lot.

Visitors inside the museum could walk over Wilshire Boulevard and glance down at an expanse of the road, while drivers in cars below could look up into the perimeter of the glass-walled museum. As before, the plan calls for the entire building to be perched about 30 feet above the ground on glass cylinders.

When the museum unveiled massive models for the original Zumthor design last year, with an estimated cost of $650 million, leaders of the Page Museum at the La Brea Tar Pits asserted that the proposed structure would block the light and rainfall available to the tar pits, a site still being excavated by paleontologists.

“The original design would have severely impacted six of the nine active tar pits,” said Jane Pisano, director of the Natural History Museum, which runs the Page. Last week, her board unanimously voted to support the revamped art museum plan. “We are so pleased,” Ms. Pisano said. “I do believe this design direction preserves and protects the tar pits.”

Michael Govan, director of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, called the new design “a case of ‘never let a good crisis go to waste.’ ” It “doesn’t change our basic vision and has the added benefit of lightening the mass in the park,” he added, referring to the campus north of Wilshire. He said the building’s 400,000 square feet remain about the same as Mr. Zumthor’s first models.

Mayor Eric Garcetti and county Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky also expressed their like for the new concept. More at Zevweb:

“Necessity is the mother of invention,” said Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who has directed county funding to a feasibility study of the project that is now underway. The new design “is actually more iconic than his original design. It’s a win-win.”

“We think the design is much better,” agreed Michael Govan, LACMA’s director and CEO. He said the new approach opens up more park space around the tar pits, creates better vistas on a “continuous veranda” around the building and makes a more compelling visual statement by bridging Wilshire.

“It really becomes a landmark,” Govan said.

Zumthor had originally intended the design to be a “love letter to the tar pits,” but as criticism emerged about its possible negative impact on science at the site, he “joked that the tar pits didn’t love it back,” Govan said.

In the site plan below, the original design is shown by dotted lines and the new plan is outlined in a solid line.


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