Yesterday the press got the first full look at starchitect Peter Zumthor's still-in-the-works plans for a total redesign of LACMA's campus--he's been working with director Michael Govan for about six years now on a plan that would eradicate the four central buildings (the three original mid-centuries and the 1980s fortress) and replace them with a sprawling ink-splotty-looking building bending around the La Brea Tar Pits, the Japanese Pavilion, and the western Renzo Piano additions. It's all on display, along with a history of the LACMA campus, in a show opening June 9--its scope actually spans 50,000 years, from Pleistocene fossils dug up at the site to a six ton model of Zumthor's new building.
At a talk with Zumthor on Monday, Govan called the project a "civic initiative," saying that "LACMA belongs to everyone." He acknowledged that the new plan would not really add square footage to LACMA's galleries (although it would have about the maximum square footage possible for the site without building upwards); potential future expansion would come on lots the museum owns across Wilshire Boulevard. He also emphasized the plan's efficiency--museums are notorious energy hogs (since art is so climate-sensitive), but the Zumthor building would have non-traditional heating and cooling and be covered in "the largest solar farm in an urban environment." The other really radical part is that there's very little storage--most of LACMA's collection would be on display in one form or another in the new building.
Besides fossils and other fascinating stuff illustrating the site's prehistory, the exhibition also shows some of Zumthor's impressive oeuvre (he won the Pritzker Prize in 2009), and both realized and unrealized LACMA design plans, with built work by William Pereira (the original '60s buildings), Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer Associates (the '80s-tastic Art of the America building), Bruce Goff (the Japanese Pavilion), Renzo Piano (the western, red-adorned part of the campus), and an unbuilt early aughts overhaul from Rem Koolhaas's Office of Metropolitan Architecture. Govan also hedged against preservationists on Monday, noting that Pereira's vision for the campus didn't last long; as a press release on the show puts it, it "was dramatically compromised within a few years of the original buildings' completion, when surrounding fountains—the driving concept of his 'floating museum'—were paved over due to tar seepage."
Here's Zumthor's architect's statement on the plan:
The proposed building for LACMA is intended to have a unique urbanistic energy. It is big and stands apart from other buildings yet is completely integrated into its environment. It is an organic shape, like a water lily, floating and open with 360 degrees of glass facing Hancock Park, the La Brea Tar Pits, Wilshire Boulevard, Chris Burden's Urban Light, and Renzo Piano's new galleries. Primary circulation is achieved by this curving perimeter—a continuous veranda rather than a classical Beaux-Arts spine. Visitors can look out; those outside can look in. From the ground, and in elevation, the museum is mostly transparent.
Formally, the design emphasizes Los Angeles and the western United States in its horizontality, re-exposing the sky that is now blocked by existing structures. A huge roof covered in solar tiles literally soaks up the energy of the California sun. The building gives more energy back to its neighbors than it takes from the city. It draws the Pacific Ocean breezes to cool its southern exposure. The proposed building is intended to create a cultural and social place. It offers a multilayered understanding and experience—from the everyday life on the street to a peaceful appreciation of individual artworks. Around more "sacred" galleries are open, casual spaces. The grand scale of the organic whole is assembled from smaller pieces within, providing a village of experiences.