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New Architect for Museum Is Identified : Design: Irvine Co. chief Donald Bren retained William Pedersen after being approached by the head of the building campaign. Renzo Piano is ‘surprised,’ ‘grieved.’

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Donald L. Bren has hired William Pedersen, an architect from New York City, to provide an alternative to Renzo Piano’s design for the Newport Harbor Art Museum’s proposed new building.

Museum officials last week revealed that an architect, whom they would not name, had been engaged by an unnamed “friend” of the museum without prior approval of the museum board.

On Monday, both Pedersen and a senior museum official who requested anonymity confirmed the hiring and Bren’s involvement. Bren, a museum trustee, is chairman of the Irvine Co., which would donate the land in Corona del Mar where the museum would be built.

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The museum official, who said he did not know how much Bren was paying Pedersen, also provided The Times with a copy of a letter from Piano to the museum board in which the architect states that he was “surprised” and “grieved” by notification that Pedersen “has received from Donald Bren the task to work on the museum project.”

Piano, who said he learned of the hiring from Pedersen, further registered concern that the entire board was not involved with the decision. Piano, based in Italy, has up until now been unavailable for comment.

Pedersen is a partner in Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates, whose projects include the Procter & Gamble headquarters in Cincinnati and the Four Seasons Hotel in Philadelphia. Pedersen said the firm has an “ongoing relationship” with the Irvine Co.

Museum officials have said the new architect would reevaluate and perhaps completely redraw the plan by the internationally renowned Piano, whose work includes Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris and the Menil Collection museum in Houston.

There has been widespread speculation that Bren was the “friend” who hired the architect because of his relationship to the project and because he was said to be unhappy with the Piano design. Bren has refused to be interviewed.

Some observers had characterized Bren’s move as a “power play,” but the senior museum official said on Monday that Bren took action only after he was approached for suggestions by the chairman of the museum building campaign, David S. Tappan Jr.

Some trustees had been concerned that Piano’s design would cost too much and that it provided insufficient gallery space. Since August, when the plan was unveiled, Piano has been working with trustees to modify it. But, the senior official said, continuing concerns prompted Tappan to meet with potential major donors to the campaign, including Bren.

Tappan, who is chairman of Fluor Daniel, wanted to gauge their enthusiasm and support for the building plan, the official said. Tappan refused comment Monday.

Bren, the official continued, “offered to contact other architects at his own expense to see if they might have ideas or alteratives.”

“Bren was not asked to go after (other architects) . . . it was simply an effort on his part to make available an alternative,” the official said. Bren consulted with three firms before making his choice. Both Piano’s and Pedersen’s plans will be considered by the full board at its next meeting, scheduled later this month.

Initially, construction cost of $15 million was targeted, the official said Monday. Trustees later voted to increase the budget to $20 million. But at one point, it appeared that Piano’s design “could run anywhere between $25 million and $28 million,” the official said.

The museum’s total capital campaign goal is $50 million, which includes $20 million for an endowment. Reportedly, $10 million has been raised in cash and pledges.

Additionally, though trustees had hoped that about 35,000 square feet of the new 75,000-square-foot building would be allotted for gallery space, Piano’s plan included only about 20,000 square feet, the official said.


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