If you’ve driven down 6th Street recently you can’t help but marvel at the giant orb rising out of the construction heap as the new Academy Museum takes shape. Italian architect Renzo Piano, who is bringing the futuristic looking addition to Wilshire’s Miracle Mile, spoke to a full house of founding supporters and Academy members last week at the Academy of Motion Pictures where he shared his vision for the project.
“It’s a relationship and balance between history and invention,” Piano told the crowd referring to the amalgamation of the old May Company building and new giant sphere that sits behind it. The 1930s Streamline Moderne five story building, now named the Saban Building for a $50 million donation from the Saban family, will house exhibition galleries devoted to the history of film and filmmaking, an Oscars Exhibition and an educational space; the “memory” of what film is all about. Attached to it by suspended glass corridors and a vast walk-through plaza will be the “invention” part of the project – the sphere holding a 1,000 seat theater and open-air plaza with views to the Hollywood Hills that will allow visitors to “take flight” in the experience of watching film and reveling in the sites of Los Angeles.
Piano, described as a son of builders in Italy, was born about the same time as the May Company was built and spoke fondly of how he sees the two buildings interact, while a massive rendering of the design was displayed behind him. “See how the two entities engage – they are almost flirting. The Saban Building acts as the old lady, the vault that will hold the past. And next to her is the quiet monster, he will share the experience of film and all that is the future…it is an organic space that allows people to strap themselves in and take off.”
Wanting to be a filmmaker himself in his youth, Piano told the audience “filmmaking is the most creative contemporary art, and probably the most emotional.” He shared his theory that filmmaking and architecture were not so far apart. “Both are about sequence,” he said. “In movies you move through space and story and sound. In architecture you do the same – from silence to noise, from shadow to light, from transparency to opacity.” He went on to say the new museum;s architecture will play on all these experiences – with patrons able to walk under the giant orb, to move in front and behind panes of glass much like cinema screens, to see through the busy lobby to the cars passing on Wilshire.
The 1,000 seat Academy theater will be bathed in red and will feature 16 different film projectors, to be able to project everything from early, fragile nitrate film prints to the future of laser projection, and everything in between. Many screenings will be open to the public. The venue will not host the Academy Awards which requires a much larger 3,300 capacity theater.
Perhaps best of all for the community, the top floor of the sphere will be an open plaza for visitors to step out to feel the air and take in the northern vista toward the Hollywood Hills. This outdoor, suspended piazza, pays homage to an Italian gathering place.
“Cinema is an art that belongs to everybody,” Piano said. “This will be a place for people to come together. It can be like a small village.” He then smiled and shared another soft-spoken secret with the audience: ” I believe beauty can change the world.”
With $300 million of the $388 million budget for the project now in place and construction well underway, the Academy hopes to unveil the new movie museum in 2019.