The Presence Of The Past: Peter Zumthor Reconsiders LACMA

by | 11. Dec 2013


Photo © 2013 Museum Associates/LACMA

By Kirsten Kiser

LACMA recently revealed the proposed design for the future of the  eastern side of the museum’s campus as envisioned by architect Peter Zumthor.

The proposed museum does not have a classical entrance. Rather, visitors  begin their visit through an outdoor space, the existing plaza, which extends under the new building to reveal eight thematic cores that appear as independent volumes on the park level and rise into the exhibition  level above. Taking advantage of a sloping site, some cores contain a mezzanine to expand conservation and study areas.


Photo © 2013 Museum Associates/LACMA


Photo © 2013 Museum Associates/LACMA

Entering the museum through one of the thematic cores will offer visitors various starting points to the exhibition level. From the stairs or elevators, one arrives at the Veranda Gallery, which surrounds the whole exhibition level and looks out to the city. A visitor can stay within the  chosen core, journeying inward to formal galleries; decide to walk beside  the facade to find entrances to the other five collection areas; or go to the restaurant facing the plaza.


Photo © 2013 Museum Associates/LACMA


Photo © 2013 Museum Associates/LACMA

On the exhibition level, six gallery areas create their own quiet centers of gravity with key pieces from the collection. In contrast to the curvilinear Veranda Gallery along the exterior, the inner galleries offer orthogonal arrangements of walls, shifting in orientation from core to  core. The diverse grids create unique settings for each collection installation and offer recognizable points of reference within the whole.


Photo © 2013 Museum Associates/LACMA

Encircling the entire building, the perimeter path – the Veranda Gallery – provides a rare and grand experience that connects everything: all the installations within the museum as well as the museum and the surrounding metropolis.

Architect’s Statement

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.

/ Peter Zumthor

The project was revealed in an exhibition as part of the Getty’s “Pacific Standard Time Presents: Modern Architecture in L.A.” initiative.

The Presence of the Past

June 9 to September 15, 2013

“Presence of the Past” marked the first time the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) has explored its own history in the context of an exhibition.

The exhibition contained approximately 116 objects, including architectural models, plans, photographs, drawings, fossils, film, and ephemera. Many of the historical materials are drawn from LACMA’s archive and have not been on public view in several decades, if ever. The exhibition’s chronology spans some 50,000 years, starting with actual Pleistocene fossils excavated from Hancock Park.


Photo © 2013 Museum Associates/LACMA

The museum’s more recent history, included the work of five prominent architects and firms that have either built on LACMA’s campus or have contributed unrealized plans that nevertheless influenced its architectural evolution: William L. Pereira; Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer Associates; Bruce Goff; Rem Koolhaas’s Office of Metropolitan Architecture (OMA); and Renzo Piano.


Photo © 2013 Museum Associates/LACMA,

In 2001 Rem Koolhaas OMA won the architectural competition to redesign LACMA. It was the only entry to assert that it would be far more effective to replace the existing structures than to renovate them attests to the early willingness to reconsider the art museum’s architecture from scratch.


Photo © 2013 Museum Associates/LACMA, photographic archives

Renzo Piano has designed two buildings on the site, The Resnick Exhibition Pavilion and BCAM.


Photo: Alex Vertikoff © 2010 LACMA

The culmination of the exhibition was the proposed design for the future of the eastern side of the museum’s campus as envisioned by Peter Zumthor

The centerpiece of Zumthor’s design was an over thirty-foot concrete model, designed by Zumthor and produced by Atelier Zumthor, positioned at a height intended to simulate looking into the building at street level.


Photo © 2013 Museum Associates/LACMA


Photo: Kirsten Kiser

With support from LACMA’s trustees and the County of Los Angeles, we have worked carefully over the last six years to develop this preliminary plan. Our goal is to create a new LACMA that would be responsive to its existing environment and have the potential to inspire its future. This exhibition is intended to give the public a sense of this process in its early stages within the context of the history of this unique and significant site.
/ Michael Govan, CEO and Wallis Annenberg Director

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