Redesign Is Likely for Museum : Architecture: Modifications will probably necessitate a new design for the $50-million Newport Harbor Art Museum. Architects other than the renowned Renzo Piano are expected to do the new work.


The design plan by renowned architect Renzo Piano for the new $50-million Newport Harbor Art Museum may be redrawn, possibly by architects other than Piano, museum officials said Wednesday.

Museum spokeswoman Maxine Gaiber said Piano’s plan has undergone “a lot of refinement and modification” since it was unveiled last summer amid great fanfare. Piano has participated in formulating some of the suggested changes, which mostly involve expanding the amount of gallery space in the new museum and related costs.

But museum board president Thomas H. Nielsen said Piano may completely redraw the plans to satisfy trustees. Also, Nielsen said, trustees have decided to look at designs submitted by several outside architecture firms.

Nielsen maintained, however, that it was “premature” to judge “what new direction is appropriate, what Piano’s ultimate role might be” or when a decision on the matter would be made.


“However, I do know that the board and the museum’s supporters have felt a review (of the building plan) is in order before launching the costly detail design and preconstruction phases of the project,” he said.

Piano, based in Italy, was said to be traveling and was not available for comment. He’s best known for designing the controversial Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, a modern art center loathed by many Parisians who likened the contemporary design to an oil refinery. Other cultural centers designed by Piano include the Menil Collection museum in Houston.

Original plans for the new, one-story Newport Harbor Art Museum, which have been described as “low-key” and “modest,” call for a low-lying facility that would be carved into a hillside at the Newport Center, merging with surrounding vegetation.

The museum is scheduled to open in 1993. A campaign to raise $50 million to finance the project has been stalled for several months, largely because of last November’s resignation of former director Kevin E. Consey.

Though potential donors have been identified, the campaign will not be resumed until a new director is found and building plans are finalized, Gaiber said. So far, $10 million in cash and pledges has been raised, officials say. A search firm hired to find a new director has not said how long it will take.

Nielsen, vice chairman of the Irvine Co., which has agreed to donate the new museum’s 10-acre site at the corner of East Coast Highway and MacArthur Boulevard, said he was optimistic about finding a new director and meeting fund-raising goals.

“I have no hesitancy that we’ll be moving ahead with the building on that site,” he added.

Original plans for the new museum call for 87,000 square feet, more than triple the size of the existing Newport Harbor Art Museum. Museum officials have said the new facility is necessary because at present, it is impossible to show the institution’s permanent collection and temporary exhibits simultaneously.

Nielsen said several trustees want to revise Piano’s plan to increase the gallery area “substantially.”

Nielsen could not give an exact figure for square footage of gallery space outlined in Piano’s plan. But a source close to the negotiations said the original plan called for about 18,000 square feet, “which just wouldn’t be sufficient.”

The source additionally said the unusual, barrel-vaulted roof plan of Piano’s design “is extremely expensive, and efforts are being made to reduce it.” The complex roof plan also makes gallery expansion very difficult, the source said.

Design changes have not been formally discussed by the board of trustees.

The board is scheduled to take up the building project at its meeting tonight, but Gaiber said it was unlikely that the changes being considered will be discussed in any detail.