Before an audience of 100 or so interested community members last night, LACMA Director Michael Govan outlined plans to reinvent the current museum by taking down four existing buildings and replacing them with one horizontal glass building that bridges over Wilshire Blvd. at Spaulding. The new building would replace the Ahmanson Building, the Hammer Building, the Art of the Americas Building and the Bing Theatre. The Pavilion of Japanese Art, the Broad Building and the Resnick Building will remain.
The presentation, made at a public scoping meeting held at the museum, was the first public discussion signaling the start of the Environmental Impact Report process on the project.
In his remarks, Govan began by describing the bridge over Wilshire Blvd. as an “opportunity to create and monumentalize the great boulevard which is Wilshire.” The vision, he said, is to bring the museum into Los Angeles and the bridge provides a “practical and beautiful way to do it.”
By removing the current buildings and crossing Wilshire Blvd., LACMA proposes to create 2.5 additional acres of ground space for people to circulate, explained Govan. Addressing one concern about the project, he noted that the spaces below the elevated building won’t be dark.
“It will be light and bright. It’s 20 feet high, exactly the spaces that people love now at LACMA,” said Govan referring to the popular gathering area behind Urban Lights, which is shaded and open. He defended the location of the bridge, saying it would not disrupt the view since it’s located precisely where the street bends slightly, which stops the view anyway.
Overall, the project results in a net loss of square footage for LACMA. But there will be more galleries, and Govan’s plan to double LACMA in 20 years remains in place, though he did not elaborate on that point last night.
“There is a reduction in scale of buildings,” said Govan. “That is a good thing; less impact on park and public.”
Construction on the project would begin after the completion of the Academy Museum in 2018 and would be complete in 2023, which coincides with the opening of the new Metro Purple Line station at Wilshire Blvd. and Orange Grove.
Speaking more about specific features of the new building, Govan said the entire edge of the museum is glass with a bench, so you can sit anywhere in the whole museum.
The height of the new building will be lower than the existing buildings, at 75 feet, and it is designed to feature interaction with park levels. Visitors will be able to look in and see art, a book store, restaurants and library spaces. The public can also wander around and look in.
“It will be very easy to circulate around the park,” said Govan. “It’s super exciting to open up the park, and create visibility into the museum. I think a lot of museums are going to follow us. The building will be very transparent; not a block but permeable.”
He also said there is no obvious front door but it won’t be hard to find your way in. The lack of a grand entrance is purposeful and fitting with the LACMA collection, which is diverse and multicultural and lends itself to the horizontal layout, preventing one culture from being placed in front or behind another one, explained Govan.
The new building is organized into eight galleries with multiple doorways inviting visitors to travel in and and out but not get lost traveling through a maze of galleries. Each features a series of inner galleries with more intimate spaces, which use light and light sources, ceiling heights and materials to offer various viewing experiences.
Govan explained how architect Peter Zumthor’s building is filled with light but since it drops off as you travel inside the building, it also allows the museum to create light-controlled spaces for works on paper or very delicate works. But you can still see outside, which, Govan said, usually doesn’t exist in museums or is very rare.
“In this case you can see clear out to the mountains, which creates great possibilities for viewing,” said Govan.
In closing his remarks, Govan invited people to view the presentation boards set up around the room and offer their opinions.
“This will not be a short process,” said Govan, referring to the multi-year planning and approval process that will be undertaken by the City and the County of Los Angeles.
“There’s nothing I like to do more than talk about this opportunity for Los Angeles and for the collection, and how amazing it is that we have a chance to seize this moment for something that will be historic,” said Govan. “I love to do that, so I will present and there will be many opportunities for discussion. There are so many ideas that I couldn’t share because the presentation had to be short.”
Following his presentation, people were invited to submit comment cards on what should be included in the impact study. Many were concerned about traffic and parking.
Jim O’Sullivan, President of the nearby Miracle Mile Residentia Association, told the Buzz that his group had filed comments before the meeting.
“We do not have enough information at this time to take a position,” said O’Sullivan. “We have never dealt with anything like this before and need to wait to see what the Draft EIR has to say. Suspending what is essentially a building over Wilshire Boulevard and anchoring it on a parking lot across the street raises more than a few questions,” he said.
More information on the project can be found on the LACMA website.