Updated: Pritzker Prize winner Peter Zumthor planning LACMA makeover

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The dream of razing four of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s oldest buildings — or at least radically reconfiguring the dreary, closed-in quadrangle they occupy – is being resurrected at the Wilshire Boulevard institution.

The Architect’s Newspaper reports that museum leaders are working with this year’s Pritzker Prize winner, Swiss architect Peter Zumthor, to formulate a long-range plan for getting rid of the problematic buildings and plaza, and replacing them with a more open and inviting structure.


A previous plan to tear down the buildings and build something revolutionary in their place died in a 2002 bond referendum. A 60.5% majority favored the arts bond proposal that would have given LACMA $100 million toward architect Rem Koolhaas’ $300 million-plus plan to replace everything on the eastern end of the museum’s Wilshire Boulevard campus, except for the distinctive Pavilion for Japanese Art. In place of the three 1965 gallery and theater buildings, and a fourth that opened in 1986, LACMA would have become a single structure on concrete stilts, topped by a billowing, tent-like roof.

California law, however, requires a two-thirds super-majority for tax-backed bond issues. With the economy in a post-9/11, post-tech-bubble recession, LACMA leaders abandoned Koolhaas’ all-at-once plan and adopted a gradual, $450 million project that could be built in stages, on a pay-as-you-go basis.

So far it has yielded buildings designed by Renzo Piano: the Broad Contemporary Art Museum, a new entrance pavilion, and the Resnick Exhibition Pavilion, due to open next year. As for those older, east-campus buildings, the plans called for some renovations, but no tear-down and rebuild.

But the Architect’s Newspaper report by Edward Lifson indicates that the dream of undoing the uninviting architectural tangle in one fell swoop still lives.

Zumthor has been visiting and helping LACMA leaders brainstorm about a remake of the eastern end of its 20-acre campus -- again excluding the Japanese Pavilion.

The architect tells Lifson he’s been on board since April, working with ‘a large team from LACMA’ to come up with ideas about ‘what a new building for the entire collection could be like.’ Most probable, he says, would not be ‘a sequence of period galleries with a long corridor.’


Zumthor is quoted as saying the design work alone would take two to three years, and that it could take a decade to complete the project. But he said he would try to come up with a preliminary plan quickly, so that museum director Michael Govan, who had worked with Zumthor on a never-realized project in his previous job running the Dia Art Foundation in New York, will have something to show prospective donors.
Zumthor says he and Govan want to take advantage of LACMA’s Hancock Park surroundings and emphasize open, outdoor space. ‘Michael and I have the feeling that all of Los Angeles is waiting for some real public space,’ the architect, who lived in L.A. during the 1980s while teaching at the Southern California Institute of Architecture, told Lifson.

Govan couldn’t be reached today. He told the Architect’s Newspaper that planning is in ‘the earliest phases of thinking,’ and that the poor economy for the current construction project makes this a good time to strategize about better days ahead, including what to do with properties LACMA owns across Wilshire Boulevard from its current row of structures.

‘If I were to have my way,’ he said, ‘I’d like to see the whole campus transformed, edge to edge, over about 15 years.’

-- Mike Boehm

[Updated: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said that Zumthor told the Architect’s Newspaper that he envisioned “a sequence of period galleries with a long corridor.” Zumthor said he would probably not create galleries along a corridor.]


Swiss architect Peter Zumthor, 65, is 2009 Pritzker laureate

Los Angeles County Museum of Art is hard hit by recession


LACMA director Govan is piloting prudently

The rise and stall of LACMA’s planned reinvention