Peter Zumthor reworks LACMA proposal
to bridge one of LA's busiest roads


News: Peter Zumthor has drastically modified his plans to overhaul the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, to prevent damaging the nearby tar pits that inspired his design.

The Swiss architect first unveiled his proposal to demolish the four buildings of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) one year ago, to make way for a new $650 million (£380 million) complex with an undulating black form referencing the La Brea Tar Pits.

Although few objected to the demolition of the existing buildings – only 424 people have signed the online petition – the neighbouring Page Museum raised concerns that the tar pits could be damaged during construction, and would be thrown into shadow by the new structures.

LACMA proposal by Peter Zumthor

Zumthor has responded by pulling the complex back. However, to achieve the required gallery space without comprising the low-rise design, it will now have to extend over Wilshire Boulevard – one of LA's biggest and busiest roads.

This south-western extension will allow the building to meet a patch of land already owned by LACMA at the corner of Spaulding Avenue and Wilshire, currently used as a car park.

Jane Pisano, director of the Natural History Museum that runs the Page Museum, told the New York Times that that original design would have "severely impacted six of the nine active tar pits", but that her board fully supports the reworked design.

LACMA proposal by Peter Zumthor

"We are so pleased," said Pisano. "I do believe this design direction preserves and protects the tar pits."

Other notable changes include new holes in the roof, opening cafe and staircase areas up to the sky, and the removal of a glazed wall that would have allowed pedestrian visitors to come face-to-face with people arriving by car.

As before, parts of the structure will be raised above ground level on nine-metre-high glass columns, providing ground-level storage for artworks.

LACMA director Michael Govan told the New York Times that the proposal will still have the same 37,000-square-metre area. It "doesn't change our basic vision and has the added benefit of lightening the mass in the park," he added, referring to the campus north of Wilshire.

LACMA proposal by Peter Zumthor
Plan showing archaeological areas to be preserved - click for larger image

Los Angles mayor Eric Garcetti has come out in favour of the new design. "I think this is a bridge in many ways," he said. "It opens up the fortress that is LACMA to the world" and allows "pedestrian and car cultures to coexist in an exciting new way".

However Zumthor's latest scheme has been criticised by LA Times critic Christopher Hawthorne, who describes it as "the product not so much of boldness as a combination of diplomacy and fidelity — perhaps misguided — to certain elements of his original design".

"The more I think about the plan's newly attenuated form, stretched like a piece of black bubble gum across Wilshire, the more I wonder if the architect's basic reading of Los Angeles could use an update," he said.

Zumthor has been working on the project for over six years, but designs were only revealed to the public in June 2013.

Images courtesy of Atelier Peter Zumthor & Partner.

  • So you cover your building in black, in LA, and then you say it’s ecological because you can fill the roof with solar panels. And how about those seamless two-storey high curve glass panels? Really ecological. And cheap. Don’t you just love the smell of money in the morning…

    • Guest

      Where does it say that it’s ‘ecological’?

      • It doesn’t. The correct term would be “energy efficient”. Here’s what it means according to PZ (quoted from a previous Dezeen post, linked in this article):

        “I think we have a great opportunity here,” says Zumthor. “Having a big flat roof exposed to the sky we can produce all the energy we want with solar power.”

        Isn’t that great. I’m sure they’ll need it.

    • amsam

      It’s hard to build anything at all without smelling a little money.

  • p

    Sejima’s curves in black.

  • TFO

    I’m saddened, but compelled to fall upon a pop culture reference with regards to PZ. There’s no way around it: he’s officially jumped the shark.

  • mitate

    What with Chipperfield and his Nobel building and now Zumthor with this, my architectural heroes are slipping off their pedestals.