May 26, 2020
Citizens Speak: Only 5% Approve Zumthor LACMA Scheme
50% Support Renovation of Existing Buildings, 85% Favor Encyclopedic Collection in One Location
LOS ANGELES—A recent online poll of 2,746 respondents finds that only 5% approve of the current Peter Zumthor-designed scheme for a new Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). Conducted by The Citizens’ Brigade to Save LACMA, the poll was open to an audience that also reviewed and voted on six leading design ideas that resulted from the “LACMA Not LackMA” international ideas competition.
“It’s evident that the art- and architecture-loving public finds LACMA’s plans sorely lacking the requisite space to honor the museum’s encyclopedic collection,” says noted writer and designer Joseph Giovannini, co-chair of The Citizens’ Brigade to Save LACMA. “Counter to LACMA’s closed process, we wanted the public—the taxpayers of Los Angeles County and beyond—to express their opinions about a plan that would decrease exhibition space and create a budget hole for the County at a time when essential services need funds.”
Asked if they thought the existing buildings “should have been preserved” or “renovated, upgraded, and used as the base for an expanded” museum, 50% of respondents concurred. Another 35% responded they either “did not care if existing buildings are reused” or “prefer a new building” so long as a new LACMA is large enough to contain the collections. Ten percent abstained.
The public also voted for their preferences among six leading ideas resulting from the competition—three building from the ground up and three integrating existing fabric. There was a tie for the ground-up ideas between Vienna-based Coop Himmelb(l)au’s “LACMA Wing” and Los Angeles-based Paul Murdoch Architects’ “Unified Campus.” “Reimagining/Restructuring” by Kaya Design of London was the clear favorite of those using all or some of the existing buildings. Each of the Peoples’ Choice selections will receive $500.
“The response to the survey shows how invested the public is in the cultural life of Los Angeles,” notes architecture writer and curator Greg Goldin, co-chair of The Citizens’ Brigade. “We are hopeful that the County Board of Supervisors will take this into account and reconsider their monetary support for LACMA’s insufficient and unpopular plan.”
The Citizens’ Brigade to Save LACMA is a group of unpaid design professionals, art experts, and citizens at large, concerned about the catastrophic impact of the proposed design on LACMA and Los Angeles culture. We are not categorically against the construction of a new building for LACMA, or even against the demolition of the three William L. Pereira & Associates and the Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer Associates buildings (though some attempt to adapt and expand them should be studied). The Atelier Peter Zumthor plan will shrink LACMA and reduce its scope, instead of nourishing and growing the museum through its collections. The Citizens’ Brigade to Save LACMA is not affiliated with LACMA or Museum Associates, which runs LACMA, or with any other organization. For more information: www.savelacma.org.
FROM THE GROUND UP
“LACMA Wing” by Coop Himmelb(l)au, Vienna
Emphasizing “an architecture that combines functionality with aspiration,” Coop Himmelb(l)au designed three main elements: landscape plinth and two, three-level “floating” gallery wings. Public circulation on ramps connecting the volumes would be encased by expressive amorphous forms whose openness to the outside refreshes the museum visiting experience. These public spaces are accessible without a ticket to the museum, but windows into the galleries are meant to entice people inside. The jury appreciated the curatorial flexibility of generous gallery spaces, with 22-foot floor-to-ceiling heights, the possibility of mezzanines and intimate galleries, and open floor plates. “This entry combines issues of great efficiency with moments of drama,” noted the jury. “The ‘bubbles’ offer exciting spaces that celebrate the public realm while connecting to straightforward, practical, functional galleries in the wings.”
Coop Himmelb(l)au was founded by Wolf D. Prix, Hon. FAIA, Helmut Swiczinsky, and Michael Holzer in Vienna, Austria, in 1968. Known in Los Angeles for the Ramón C. Cortines School of Visual and Performing Arts, the firm, now headed by Prix, practices radical, “expressive architecture.” The firm’s work includes the contemporary art pavilion at the Museum of Groningen in the Netherlands, the Gasometer, an industrial building converted into a housing complex in Vienna, and the multi-functional BMW Welt building in Munich.
“Unified Campus” by Paul Murdoch Architects, Los Angeles
To create greater institutional cohesion, Paul Murdoch Architects took a holistic approach to the entire LACMA campus and its relationship to the cultural institutions flanking it. The design, according to the architects, is “expressive of LA in its openness, multiplicity of urban, natural, and cultural connections, and abundant use of controlled natural light.” The jury noted how this horizontal skyscraper—an on-axis version of the neighboring tower across Wilshire—corresponds to the urbanism of the area. “It restores the continuity of the Wilshire Boulevard street front with a respectful attitude by placing the narrow part of the building facing the street and the broadside framing the park.” The east glass façade offers a strong, complementary visual connection to Hancock Park and the La Brea Tar Pits, and the west façade forms a long public plaza bordered by BCAM and the Resnick Pavilion, uniting the two campuses.
Paul Murdoch Architects, founded in Los Angeles in 1991, is headed by Paul and Milena Murdoch. In 2005, the firm won the Flight 93 National Memorial competition. Work in Southern California includes UCLA’s Plant Growth Center, L.A. City’s Central Avenue Constituent Services Center, and the upcoming zero-net-energy gymnasium at the Boyle Heights Sports Center, as well as modernizations for the American Jewish University.
INTEGRATING EXISTING ARCHITECTURAL FABRIC
“Reimagining/Restructuring” by Kaya Design, London
Kaya Design replaces the 1986 building “to preserve the best elements of the past while creating a more contemporary, multi-use alternative space.” An elevated volume respects the scale of the existing structures with three solid walls for curatorial flexibility and an all-glass façade to the north. Circulation into the entrance is through a gentle ramp/walkway leading into the lobby that directs visitors to the other buildings on other floors—the ramps equalizing the importance of all adjacent floors. The new structure is reserved for exhibition space on six above-grade levels, including the interior of the spiral element. “This design achieves a considerable service to the campus, making the east campus more coherent than it’s ever been,” said the jury. “The biological form of the spiral—as ancient as seashells and hurricanes—gives value to the floors it connects.”
Kaya Design, with locations in London, Istanbul, and Cyprus, was established in 2017 by Saffet Kaya Bekiroglu. Prior to forming his firm, he collaborated with Zaha Hadid Architects on several competition-winning projects (London Aquatics Centre for 2012 Olympic Games, Kartal Pendik Masterplan in Istanbul). He previously collaborated with Frank O. Gehry & Associates on the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory in Cambridge, MA, and the Lake Front Music Pavilion in Chicago’s Millennium Park.