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Three competing plans unveiled for the future of La Brea Tar Pits

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What’s your favorite?

A rendering from Weiss and Manfredi’s proposal, one of three plans to dramatically reshape La Brea Tar Pits.
Weiss/Manfredi Architecture/Landscape/Urbanism

Three dramatic design schemes for a mammoth-sized makeover of La Brea Tar Pits were made public Monday night—and museum officials are asking the public to pick their favorite.

The competing architectural plans cover the entire Miracle Mile campus, including the bubbling lake pit that fronts Wilshire Boulevard, the Page Museum, excavation sites, and the green spaces that tie into the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

One of the plans would dramatically alter the Page Museum, wrapping it in glass and “lifting” it up on stilts. Long boardwalks would branch out from the museum, making connections to all of the activities on the campus, including a new amphitheater, Pleistocene gardens and native lawns, seating nooks, and a lake overlook.

Another would replace the museum with a glass box encircled in a pinwheel of overlapping landscaped “plates,” making it look as if it’s partially submerged in the ground. A grid of walking paths would cross the campus, but a distinct entrance—an “asphalt plaza”—at Wilshire and Curson would serve as a new “front door.”

The third would keep the museum entirely intact, adding a swooping new wing along Sixth Street. A central lawn would sprawl out below the two buildings, and their foundation would lift open like a giant glass lip to showcase museum artifacts. Walking paths in the shape of a double helix would lace the campus together, creating a new crossing over the lake.

The proposals come from three pedigreed firms outside Los Angeles, one from Denmark—Dorte Mandrup—and two from New York—Weiss/Manfredi and Diller Scofidio and Renfro (DSR).

The Page Museum—which houses millions of Ice Age fossils uncovered on the oil field and where research continues today—opened to the public in 1977, when “Jimmy Carter had just been inaugurated president and Fleetwood Mac released the album Rumors,” Lori Bettison-Varga, president of the Natural History Museums of Los Angeles County, which operates the museum, said Monday night at the unveiling.

It’s time to “reimagine” the 12-acre campus as a “central resource for Angelenos, tourists, and researchers,” she said. But she stressed that picking a plan would not “happen overnight.”

Next door to the tar pits, the main LACMA buildings are poised to be demolished and rebuilt under a plan designed by Swiss architect Peter Zumthor, who was hand-picked by museum director Michael Govan, with no public engagement. Bettison-Varga never mentioned LACMA’s design process, but she repeatedly stressed that public input would be integral to the tar pits overhaul.

Below, the three proposals. A firm will be selected by the end of December, and public feedback will be accepted through September 30.

Dorte Mandrup / Martha Schwartz Partners
Dorte Mandrup / Martha Schwartz Partners
Martha Schwartz Partners
Dorte Mandrup

The Page Museum would be remodeled and lifted up on stilts, keeping the “simple and clear rectangular foot-print, the geometric halo floating above the landscape and the frieze that tells the narrative of the Pleistocene.” An image of the frieze would be projected on the new glass facade with photovoltaic pixels. A garden and bar would top the roof. Inside, “dramatic black walls and ceilings [would] create a sense of infinite mass.”

Four serpentine boardwalks would branch out from the museum, surrounded by drought tolerant plants and evergreen and redwood forest to give the park “a wild look and feel.” Sculptural metal fencing would enclose the tar pits. New spaces would include playgrounds, outdoor classrooms, a dog run, forest trails, a variety of seating areas, a hammock grove, and an amphitheater.

A rendering of a park and shade structure. Courtesy of Weiss/Manfredi
Weiss/Manfredi Architecture/Landscape/Urbanism
Weiss/Manfredi Architecture/Landscape/Urbanism
Weiss/Manfredi Architecture/Landscape/Urbanism

The museum, with a few changes, would remain and a curvaceous new wing would be built next to it, connected via a new lobby and cafe. Below the two buildings, a sprawling central lawn would open like a giant lip or eye to reveal the museum’s underground collections. The existing terrace on the museum’s roof would become a new multipurpose “plateau” for public events.

Walking paths in the form of three Mobius loops would bisect the campus, with the lower loop encircling and crossing over the lake. At the corner of Wilshire and Curson, the path would be shaded by a dramatic “entry” canopy to serve as a new campus gateway. “Intimate paleobotanical” gardens would dot the park, along with play areas.

Diller Scofidio and Renfro (DSR)

The Page Museum would be demolished and rebuilt in the form of a glass box surrounded like petals by elevated landscape “plates.” The existing frieze would be preserved inside. The heart of the new building would be a floating cube displaying the museum’s collection.

Outside, a grid of walkways would crisscross the campus but the main entryway would be a landscaped “asphalt plaza” at Wilshire and Curson that would descend into the museum. The lake pit mammoths and other animal sculpture dotting the park now would be relocated to a permanent exhibit at the museum. The landscaping would “transition” to the north of the campus to become progressively more drought-tolerant, representing the site’s “wetter past, a drought prone present, and a much more arid future.”

La Brea Tar Pits

5801 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90036