« Previous | Culture Monster Home | Next »

Updated: Pritzker Prize winner Peter Zumthor planning LACMA makeover

December 1, 2009 |  5:39 pm

PeterZumthor 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.

LACMABing 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

Photos: Peter Zumthor; Plaza at LACMA in front of the Bing Theatre. Credits: Gary Ebner (Zumthor); Ringo H.W. Chiu/For the Los Angeles Times

Comments () | Archives (5)

Architects these days have no imaginations, they all are grandiose wannabe sculptors. Their creations about themselves, the builder, and the patron, Mausoleums, not Museums.

Where is the art? It gets lost in high ceilinged monstrosities, no human proportions, no comfort, no ease to feel the life of the art itself. Its sterile. The existing buildings could easily be renovated with new surfaces inside and out. Get better lighting, smaller prortions, not all cold concrete and pseudo industrial, for those who have never truly worked in their lives, surroundings.

The Japanese pavilion is a disaster, horribly lit, cheap plastic light scrims, a horrible green we used in shop class as a kid to make designs out of sickly styrofoam. Goofy. No class or japanese style sensitive samurai masculinity at all. Paint it white, replace the panels, dark wood trim and you got something, though it is a waste of space. For the best collection in the museum besides the pre-columbian, and the new oceanic i gotta get over to see.

It has some good early Modern work, but mostly just a catalogue of leftovers from artists who had already been picked over. I always visit the Cezannes, especially teh vowl of cherries. Work on getting better art. Thats what we go for, not your damn socialite parties for fundraisers, the rest of LA doesnt care, and we foot much of the bill. And leave the park and Page museum alone, you will mess that up too, their great as is.

Most people know these things, all I know who arent art school clones. They just dont speak up because its LA, we got better things to do. Do your job, get some art, quality stuff of passion and purose, and fix up what you got. Thats true creativity, view it as a Kurt Schwitters wood collage before he painted them. Start thinking, and more important, feeling deeply. Instead of the party headquarters for the rich you all want, make something about humanity, nature and god, THATS the purpose of creative art. WE dont care, we want good art. For Creative art is about Us, not I, leave that to Broad and his monstrosities.

fine art, music, and obviously architecture academies must be destroyed
What a lack of imagination. go build absurdity for some damn broke sheik.

Easy holiday recipe for "Soak the Rich" confections: appeal to their vanity by offering to put their names on the sides of buildings- do this every fifteen years, starting with a campaign to portray existing buildings as hideous and obsolete, then move in with the killdozers when you've appealed to the vanity of the 'arts community' (art industrial complex), not to be confused with either the artists themselves or the public, by hosting a gala for the latest boy wonder architect who's willing to see his fancy become high commission reality. Look, shiny models to scale! Preferably someone who has absolutely no connection with the local community, and hence no roots or historical references. Repeat every fifteen years. Art becomes irrelevant. Business thrives. Egos swell.

To the author of this article:

Please go back and re-read the interview from the Architect's Newspaper! Zumthor specifically says, "It probably WON'T be a sequence of period galleries with a long corridor." Good job at completely misrepresenting Zumthor's intent.

And to commenters Donald and Earl:

Do either of you know ANYTHING about Peter Zumthor?! He is probably the most thoughtful architect practicing in the world today. And he is certainly no "boy wonder." I know it's fashionable to pick on the starchitect types like Frank Gehry, but if you are going to fashion yourself as architecture critics, at least try to sound like you know what you are talking about!

Well, gosh, the Kolumba Art Museum in Cologne and his Saint Benedict Chapel in Switzerland both look lovely, and were I truly knowledgeable about architecture, I suppose I'd know more about Mr. Zumthor, who is clearly no 'boy wonder', and then, rest assured, I'd appreciate his genius all the more. I happen to think Norman Foster is the bee's knees, but that neither suggests that I am informed nor any more inclined to suggest that the LACMA campus be razed and replaced with one of his works.

My point was simply that we have a habit of demonizing people and things as a first step toward elimination, and in an age wherein we're patting ourselves on the back for our enlightened ways, we're still happy to fill graveyards and landfills with our discards. Secondly, our pursuit of wealthy patrons to underwrite this need is a bit unseemly.

So, if five cosmetic surgeries later the face is a wreck and all of LACMA needs to go to the dump, can't we at least pause to ask ourselves if a fifteen to twenty year life span for major construction efforts might be a little short in the face of diminished resources? Besides, I haven't seen the public stay away in droves because the stitched together complex is such an abomination.

I applaud people like Tom Gilmore who fight to preserve a St Vibiana's from the wrecking ball, and those who see the value in preserving the Century Plaza hotel. Perhaps those feelings have nothing whatsoever to do with their value as architecture. And by the way, I think few would suggest that Mr. Gehry did anything but brilliant work on Pasadena's Norton Simon museum, a model for non-destructive re-imagining. I just wish Pennsylvania Station in New York had been preserved, even in the face of proven obsolescence. Call me a philistine.

I agree about the Norton Simon, though not a big fan of Gehrys, it is a place to view art, not some architects temple to his own greatness. The real temple being on the lower level, the Southeast Buddhist collection is now wonderful. How much was Gehry and how much was utilizing the space that was cut open I dont know. But well lit, and of human proportions, not all bombastic schtick. And the garden and grounds are the best of the remodeling.

Most architecture now is designed to be photographed for magazine presentations. They are not warm or livable at all. Started with Frank Lloyd Wright. I got married in his sons Wayfarers Chapel, now THATS architecture combinng humanity, nature, and god. And most is terribly lit and awkward, this guys stuff is very sterile, good in frozen Scandanavian countries maybe, but not in a Southern California which should be Southwest, pre Columbian and Mediterranean in style. Simply grow some creeping fig and Italian cypresses to enliven the joint, its too massive as is. We alredy got a monstrosity of a Cathedral downtown, talk about oppressive and out of place.

And be truly creative. Just get a few hundred gallons of paint, and fix the place up. First put in new lighting, and perhasp rearrange some rooms, which they have done a good job of latey with the pre Columbian, and go from there. This way it can be changed every decade or so. Let artists paint it. Resurface the exterior, paint the columns, perhaps a Knossos color red, Minoan culture is the foundation of all Western art, use it. Use the light. be CREATIVE, a skill not taught anymore. It really cant be, and why art academies are wastes of time and monies.

Concentrate on what you put IN to the buildings, and make the boxes themselves as unobtrusive as possible, make it homey, and pipe in some music. What is appropriate for each type of art. One doesnt need silence to view art, it should be alive, and hold its own or isnt very good. Like everything in the Broad, what a waste. Can't hold up to anything but Western pop music, for that is its equinvalent, absurdist entertainment for the rich. Not musics of passion and life.

but intelligent, creative people havent gone into art for decades now, and so this is what we got. The architecture was doing pretty good in the 80s and 90s, then got bombastic and arrogant in the new millenium, I am glad it has to be scaled down, It was absurd. A project gives creative impetus, working with already established parameters, rather than total control. Which lead to arrogant buildings, and make no mistake, this stuff is elitist snobs of strictly marketing talents, looking down on the "masses". But anything can be fixed up with a little imagination. Wish it wasnt in such short supply these days, as it all went to other fields, not art. Or maybe the patrons and status quo is scared of it. Art is about humanity, let these starchitects be bombastic in State or private Mausoleums, but not that of the masses, with OUR monies.

And no damn hanging locomotive, you telling me that is absurdist arrogance?

art collegia delenda est


Recommended on Facebook

In Case You Missed It...


Explore the arts: See our interactive venue graphics


Tweets and retweets from L.A. Times staff writers.