Dezeen Magazine

Exterior of the Hammer Museum tower on a street corner in Los Angeles

Michael Maltzan completes decades-long revamp of LA's Hammer Museum

A new lobby and sculpture terrace are among the final additions to a Los Angeles art museum that was strategically revamped over a 23-year period by local studio Michael Maltzan Architecture.

Located in the city's Westwood neighbourhood, the Hammer Museum is housed in a rectilinear, stone-clad building designed by American architect Edward Larrabee Barnes and completed in 1990. In recent years, the museum's programs have expanded to occupy space in an adjoining 1960s office tower.

Courtyard at the Hammer Museum with a tree, outdoor seating and white buildings connected by a bridge
A pedestrian bridge is among new additions to the museum

The museum – which is part of the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) – was originally founded by the late industrialist Armand Hammer to showcase his personal collection of European and American art.

In 1999, a new director, Ann Philbin, who remains at the helm, set out to make the museum more accessible to a wider audience in terms of its artwork, programming and architectural design.

Museum gallery space with white walls covered in red threads
The lobby currently features a red thread installation by Chiharu Shiota

Local studio Michael Maltzan Architecture was tapped in 2000 to design a master plan for Barnes' building, consisting of galleries around a central courtyard. The museum had an insular feel, and the architects were tasked with making the building more welcoming.

With work being carried out over 20-plus years, Michael Maltzan said the project required "extraordinary persistence and inventiveness".

Internal gallery space at the Hammer Museum with white walls and wooden floors
The museum was revamped over 23 years

"This was truly a case of building the airplane while you were flying it," studio founder Michael Maltzan said. "I can't think of any other client that would have had the daring and imagination to carry it off."

Among the recent and final updates is a redesigned lobby, located on the ground floor of the adjoining tower, which was built in 1962 for Hammer's company, Occidental Petroleum. In 2015, the museum took over two floors of the tower.

An outdoor courtyard at the Hammer Museum by Michael Maltzan Architects with a white pedestrian bridge
The museum is located in LA's Westwood neighbourhood

The lobby has ramps, stairs and an elevator set around an elliptical information desk. Site-specific installations are planned for the space, and a labyrinth of red thread by Japanese artist Chiharu Shiota is currently on view.

The lobby's entrance is oriented toward the corner of Wilshire and Westwood boulevards, just across from a future stop for the LA Metro Purple line.

"A cylindrical, one-storey-high column set into a concave fold in the pavement marks the busy corner of Wilshire and Westwood," the team said.

"The column supports the edge of a porch that has been carved out of the tower to provide a dramatic and welcoming point of entry."

A studio space with white walls, wooden floors and a large window looking out to the street
Large windows provide a connection to the street. Photo by Eric Staudenmaier

Beyond the new entrance and lobby, the team has added a new outdoor sculpture terrace, where one finds a towering bronze sculpture by American artist Sanford Biggers.

The team has also added a 5,600-square-foot (520-square-metre) gallery with a glazed wall facing Wilshire Boulevard, providing a connection to the streetscape.

Theatre space with black walls and ceilings, strip lighting and hot pink seats
The studio added a theatre with hot pink seats. Photo by Eric Staudenmaier

The new additions are the latest in a long list of enhancements. The team has expanded offices and back-of-house areas; renovated galleries, a shop and a restaurant; and created a new gallery and study centre dedicated to works on paper.

Other changes include the creation of the Billy Wilder Theater, which was added in 2006 and features hot pink seats; and the construction of a pedestrian bridge that traverses the courtyard and connects third-floor galleries.

Terrace at a white building overlooking a courtyard with a tree
The museum forms part of the University of California, Los Angeles

The entire project has cost $90 million (£72 million). The building has been officially dubbed the Lynda and Stewart Resnick Cultural Center — named in honour of the Resnick family, who donated $30 million to the Hammer Museum, its largest-ever single gift.

"From the start, our goal was to make the Hammer into a welcoming, public-facing, university-affiliated institution engaged with today's art and artists and the urgent issues of our time," said Philbin.

"I am beyond thrilled to welcome everyone to a reimagined Hammer Museum that is more than 20 years in the making."

Other projects by Michael Maltzan Architecture include LA's Ribbon of Light Bridge, which features multiple concrete arches that are lit from below, and a bright-white residential complex that contains over 60 studio apartments for formerly homeless tenants.

The photography is by Iwan Baan unless otherwise stated.

Project credits: 

Architect: Michael Maltzan Architecture, Inc
Design team: Michael Maltzan (design principal), Tim Williams (managing principal), Gee-ghid Tse (senior project designer), Nick McAdoo (project architect), Sahaja Aram, Dana Bauer, Emily Bidegain, Wil Carson, Joe DiMatteo, Wendi Gilbert, Tom Goffigon, Nora Gordon, Vano Haritunians, Ken Hasegawa, Sara Jacinto, Sevak Karabachian, Yong Kim, Yvonne Lau, Nick Martinez, John Murphey, Stacy Nakano, Edward Ogosta, Kyle Peterson,  Nadine Quirmbach, Kurt Sattler, Krista Scheib, Jeff Soler, Owen Tang, Hiroshi Tokumaru,  Nicole Tomasi, Jessica Tracey, Edward Tung, Yan Wang, Sharon Xu, Paul Stoelting
Graphics: Bruce Mau Design, Inc
Structural engineer: John A Martin & Associates
Structural design engineer: Guy Nordenson and Associates, LLP (John V Tunney Bridge)
MEP/FP engineer: ARUP, Innovative Engineering Group (BWT)
Lighting design: LAM Partners Inc, ARUP
General contractor: Matt Construction Corporation
Client: UCLA Hammer Museum
Museum leadership: Ann Philbin (director), Marcy Carsey (chair, board of directors)

More images

hammer museum plans
Internal lobby space at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles
Office meeting space with a large white table and timber ceiling
Theatre box office with black walls and wooden floors at the Hammer Museum
Gallery space with black walls and large windows at the Hammer Museum
Gallery space with green lasers at the Hammer Museum
Lobby space at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles by Michael Maltzan Architects
Lab and office space at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles by Michael Maltzan Architects
Lobby space at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles by Michael Maltzan Architects
Outdoor courtyard at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles by Michael Maltzan Architects
People playing table tennis at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles by Michael Maltzan Architects
Art gallery space at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles by Michael Maltzan Architects
Art gallery space at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles by Michael Maltzan Architects
Art gallery space at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles by Michael Maltzan Architects