April 27, 2020
International Architects Propose Intriguing New Ideas for LACMA
Coop Himmelb(l)au, Barkow Leibinger, Reiser + Umemoto Among ‘LACMA Not LackMA’ Entrants
LOS ANGELES—The jury for “LACMA Not LackMA” has selected six leading ideas that could contribute to an alternate design for a new Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), correcting major shortcomings of the currently proposed scheme. A gallery of the six concepts will be open for public review and voting at www.saveLACMA.org. “Our call for ideas was to open and make public what has been a closed process, and to present alternatives that inspire and show a way forward for a LACMA that is improved, fresh, and practical, not reduced and compromised,” says noted writer and designer Joseph Giovannini, co-chair of The Citizens’ Brigade to Save LACMA, which organized the ideas competition.
“This collection of six designs represents the ideas the jury found most compelling,” notes architecture writer and curator Greg Goldin, co-chair of The Citizens’ Brigade. “We are not proposing any one of them be built as-is, but that the public, the museum board, and the County Board of Supervisors view them as inspirations to consider alternatives that truly capture people’s eyes, hearts, and minds, and showcase the collections in a practical and architecturally stimulating environment that embodies—rather than usurps—LACMA’s purpose and spirit.”
The six firms are Barkow Leibinger, Berlin; Coop Himmelb(l)au, Vienna; Kaya Design, London; Paul Murdoch Architects, Los Angeles; Reiser + Umemoto, New York City; and TheeAe (The Evolved Architectural Eclectic), Hong Kong. Three propose to build from the ground up, while three chose to work with the existing architectural fabric.
All of the designs selected by the jury of architects, curators, and critics correct problems that are inherent in LACMA’s current scheme designed by Atelier Peter Zumthor. They all
- enlarge, rather than reduce, the exhibition square footage
- build only on the current site, rather than bridge across Wilshire Boulevard
- save money per square foot, as compared to the Zumthor plan, thereby allowing County funds to be used to better serve its citizens (especially during the COVID-19 crisis)
- place curatorial concerns ahead of making a dictatorial architectural statement
- provide flexible gallery interiors, not permanent concrete gallery walls
- retain back-of-house services, including curatorial offices and library, rather than placing them off site
- tie the Resnick Pavilion and BCAM into the new museum and embrace the La Brea Tar Pits Park and Museum
- use conventional construction methods rather than expensive high-finish concrete
- maintain the formal continuity of LA’s memorable Miracle Mile district along Wilshire Boulevard
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.”
“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 streetfront with a respectful attitude by placing the narrow part of the building facing the street and the broad side 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.
“HILLACAM” by TheeAe (The Evolved Architectural Eclectic), Hong Kong
TheeAe (The Evolved Architectural Eclectic) considers Los Angeles’ diversity when proposing the museum as “a new cultural platform that connects people from different walks of life,” by simultaneously offering enclosed cultural spaces and an open, sculpted, outdoor landscape. The tall building (five levels plus garden roof) combines an undulating façade along Wilshire Boulevard to the south with “hill” element sloping into the park on the property’s north side. The jury remarked that the dramatic hybrid design would make it a “destination building” cleverly designed to sustain the urbanity of Wilshire on one side while extending the bucolic nature of the park on the other. “The Wilshire façade becomes a kinetic wall, imparting a strong urban experience that changes as you drive by, which is how most Angelenos experience the city,” noted the jury.” “The back façade, a built hillside, is a landscape event that adds a surprising new participatory dimension to Hancock Park. This will be a hill you want to climb.”
INTEGRATING EXISTING ARCHITECTURAL FABRIC
“Re(in)novating LACMA” by Reiser + Umemoto, New York City
Reiser + Umemoto’s aim was “to create a coherent, retroactive masterplan that builds off the campus’ prior successes and seeks to engage and reinvigorate the full breadth of LACMA’s collection.” The three-pronged approach includes adding new elements in and around the original 1965 buildings, binding them into a new whole. The Cone sits within and atop the Ahmanson; The Bar, an elevated gallery building, transects the campus from north to south, offering an appropriately scaled Wilshire entrance and new gallery space; The Cluster replaces the 1986 building with a series of interior pod-shaped galleries, as well as exterior exhibition space on a reimagined plaza level. “The architects found a way to make the plaza into a connective tissue and strategically make the existing buildings work as an ensemble,” said the jury, which also commended the clear circulation that employed new interstitial spaces to move people through the building’s interior spaces.
“Tabula LACMA” by Barkow Leibinger, Berlin
This “reconstitution” is an unusual hybrid of old and new, as it maintains the scale and context of the original LACMA buildings by reconstructing them with modern, sustainable materials, then interconnecting them with a new plinth form punctured by courtyards. Barkow Leibinger stresses this would “provide spaces for art, delight, and public encounter.” The jury thought this flexible, spacious design addressed the changing role of museums by including a good amount of shopping, cafés, and event venues that urbanize the spaces and engender a lively environment. “There’s a powerful idea of using the area around the pavilions to create a whole new programmed space,” according to the jurors. They enjoyed the rediscovery of the inner plaza and could “imagine these would be great spaces to be in, as well as fun to discover.”
“Reimagining/Restructuring” by Kaya Design, London
Replacing the 1986 building, Kaya Design proposes “to preserve the best elements of the past while creating a more contemporary, multi-use alternative space.” An elevated volume that respects the scale of the existing structures has solid walls on three sides for curatorial flexibility, then opens to the north with an all-glass façade. 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.”
The jury will award $1,500 to each of the six leading firms. Each of the Peoples’ Choice selections (one in each category) will receive an additional $500. Nine firms, whose entries the jury deemed ideas of merit, will each receive $500. These 15 projects will be featured on www.saveLACMA.org.
Comprising a roster of noted architecture and museum professionals, the jury included:
- Aaron Betsky, director of Virginia Tech’s School of Architecture + Design, Blacksburg
- Winka Dubbledam, founder of Archi-Tectonics, New York City, and Miller Professor/chair of architecture at University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia
- Joseph Giovannini, principal of Giovannini Associates and architecture critic of Los Angeles Review of Books, New York City and Los Angeles
- Greg Goldin, independent architecture writer/curator and co-chair of The Citizens’ Brigade to Save LACMA, Los Angeles
- Patrice Marandel, chief curator of European Art (retired) at LACMA, Los Angeles
- William Pedersen, FAIA, founding design partner of Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates (KPF), New York City
- Barton Phelps, FAIA, principal of Barton Phelps & Associates Architects and Planners, Los Angeles
Acting as competition advisor was John Walsh, former director of J. Paul Getty Museum, who guided that Los Angeles institution through the construction of its Richard Meier & Partners Architects-designed project.
“We at The Citizens’ Brigade to Save LACMA are impressed with the creativity, sensitivity, and passion these international architects brought to their ideas, as well as the generosity of their considerable time and effort,” says organization co-chair Giovannini. “Our aim is to open a constructive dialogue about LACMA’s future by offering creative new workable alternatives that will invite the public into a process that better serves the taxpayers of Los Angeles County and the many people around the world who have loved LACMA’s collections for the past 55 years.”
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.
ABOUT THE LEADING FIRMS
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 Vienna-based firm, now headed by Prix, are practitioners of radical, “expressive architecture.” 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.
Barkow Leibinger is an American/German architectural practice based in Berlin and New York, founded in 1993 by Frank Barkow and Regine Leibinger, Hon. FAIA. Recently completed buildings include the Trumpf Smart Factory in Chicago, the Fellows Pavilion for the American Academy in Berlin, the HAWE Factory Kaufbeuren, and the Tour Total office high-rise in Berlin. Their work was included in the Serpentine Summer House program in 2016 in London and was shown in the 2nd Chicago Architecture Biennial in 2017.
Kaya Design, with locations in London, Istanbul, and Cyprus, was established in 2017 by Saffet Kaya Bekiroglu. Prior to forming his own firm, he collaborated with Zaha Hadid Architects on several competition-winning projects, such as the London Aquatics Centre for 2012 Olympic Games, the Kartal Pendik Masterplan in Istanbul, and the regeneration of Eleftheria Square in Nicosia, Cyprus. He previously collaborated with Frank O. Gehry & Associates on such large-scale projects as the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory in Cambridge, MA, and the Lake Front Music Pavilion in Chicago’s Millennium Park.
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. The firm’s 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.
Reiser + Umemoto, based in New York City, builds in a wide range of scales, from furniture design, to residential and commercial structures, to landscape, urban design, and infrastructure. Established by Jesse Reiser, AIA, and Nanako Umemoto, among the firm’s recent work are Taipei Pop Music Center in Taiwan, Kaohsiung Port Terminal in Taiwan, and 0-14 Tower Dubai in United Arab Emirates.
TheeAe (The Evolved Architectural Eclectic), founded by architect Chris Woohyun Cho, began in Hong Kong in 2011 and expanded into New York in 2019. The firm’s projects span much of the far east and Asia, including the Gwangju Library in Gwangju, South Korea, Mumbai Airport in India, and hotels from Vietnam to Mongolia.