LACMA Tweaks Expansion Plan To Make Space for Tar Pits

Installation view, "The Presence of the Past: Peter Zumthor Reconsiders LACMA," June 9-September 15, 2013, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Photo © 2013 Museum Associates/LACMA

Pritzker Prize-winning architect Peter Zumthor has rejiggered his masterplan for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art‘s (LACMA) campus to avoid the neighboring La Brea Tar Pits. When the original designs for the massive, $650-million overhaul of LACMA’s disjointed group of buildings was announced last year, the administration of the Page Museum at the La Brea Tar Pits raised objections and claimed that the Zumthor plan would block rainfall and sunlight on the geological tourist destination and still-active paleontological research site rich with Ice Age fossils.

The new plan, as Jori Finkel writes for the New York Times, calls for a building that keeps its distance from the tar pits, instead stretching across Wilshire Boulevard to land on a lot currently used for parking. Though bridging a four-lane boulevard may sound like a radical solution, it’s actually relatively simple given Zumthor’s plan for the entire LACMA building to be raised some 30 feet off the ground, with large glass cylinders serving as pylons. The revised design will allow museum-goers to look down at passing traffic on Wilshire, while motorists will get a glimpse into the museum.

“The original design would have severely impacted six of the nine active tar pits,” Jane Pisano, the director of Los Angeles’s Natural History Museum—which runs the Page Museum—told the Times. “We are so pleased…I do believe this design direction preserves and protects the tar pits.”

According to LACMA director Michael Govan, the new design maintains the roughly 400,000 square feet of space afforded by Zumthor’s original design, “doesn’t change our basic vision, and has the added benefit of lightening the mass in the park.”

Zumthor’s LACMA masterplan may have won the approval of its immediate neighbors, but still needs the go-ahead from the City of Los Angeles. Judging by mayor Eric Garcetti’s comments to Finkel, though, earning his endorsement may not be so difficult.

“I think this is a bridge in many ways,” Garcetti said. “It opens up the fortress that is LACMA to the world,” allowing “pedestrian and car cultures to coexist in an exciting new way.”

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