Ideas for a Better LACMA

International Architects Propose Intriguing New Ideas for LACMA

Public Is Invited to Vote Online 

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) is the largest encyclopedic museum west of the Mississippi with 350,000 square feet of built interior space in its four core buildings on six acres of land. LACMA is about to enter a major construction project: the four existing buildings on the east campus (the Ahmanson, Hammer, and Arts of the Americas Buildings, and the Bing Center) will be demolished and replaced by one new building. After carefully analyzing publicly available documents about the new building designed by architect Peter Zumthor, we regretfully concluded the design is inadequate and dysfunctional: it provides too little gallery space, consumes too much land, and costs an extravagant price per square foot. It strips the museum of essential services such as curatorial offices and the library. The design fails the collections, which will be stored or dispersed to other locations.

In a corrective competition, the Citizens' Brigade to Save LACMA invited architects to submit ideas for alternative solutions that would expand gallery space rather than shrink it, and use less rather than more land, while providing a home for the collections and services needed for their care.

Participants in the idea competition had only a month, and yet 28 proposals from around the world were submitted, all of which are superior to the Zumthor scheme. They all provide enough exhibition space for LACMA’S wide-ranging and diverse collections in a multi-story building that uses much less land, which is better banked for future projects. Designers could either work with some or all of the existing LACMA buildings, or create a new design from the ground up.

The jury selected three compelling schemes from each of the two categories, “Existing Buildings" and “Ground Up." We are not proposing that any one of them be built as is, but simply suggesting that the public, the museum board, and the County Board of Supervisors view them as possible starting points for developing alternatives that truly capture people’s eyes, hearts, and minds, and showcase LACMA's collections in a practical and architecturally stimulating environment. LACMA needs a building that sustains and enhances rather than diminishes its leadership role among American institutions.

The six firms are Barkow Leibinger, Berlin; Coop Himmelb(l)au, Vienna; Kaya Design, London; Paul Murdoch Architects, Los Angeles; Reiser + Umemoto, New York City; and TheeAe (The Evolved Architectural Eclectic), Hong Kong.

See the Leading Ideas designed from the ground up HERE.

See the Leading Ideas using existing LACMA buildings HERE.

Vote on your favorite in each category HERE. (Voting will be open until May 15th)

All of the designs selected by the jury of architects, curators, and critics correct problems that are inherent in LACMA’s current scheme designed by Atelier Peter Zumthor.

They all

  • enlarge, rather than reduce, the exhibition square footage

  • build only on the current site, rather than bridge across Wilshire Boulevard

  • save money per square foot, as compared to the Zumthor plan, thereby allowing County funds to be used to better serve its citizens (especially during the COVID-19 crisis)

  • place curatorial concerns ahead of making a dictatorial architectural statement

  • provide flexible gallery interiors, not permanent concrete gallery walls

  • retain back-of-house services, including curatorial offices and library, rather than placing them off site

  • tie the Resnick Pavilion and BCAM into the new museum and embrace the La Brea Tar Pits Park and Museum

  • use conventional construction methods rather than expensive high-finish concrete

  • maintain the formal continuity of LA’s memorable Miracle Mile district along Wilshire Boulevard 

The jury was comprised of noted architecture and museum professionals:

Aaron Betsky:  author of numerous books on architecture and an active architecture critic, Aaron is the newly named director of the Virginia Tech School of Architecture and Design, Blacksburg, and until recently he headed the School of Architecture at Taliesin.  A former museum director, he trained at Yale as an architect.

Barton Phelps:  an L.A. based architect who for decades practiced from his office in the Desmond’s building on Wilshire, Barton has long been an observer and theorist of urban landscapes. He has been active institutionally in Los Angeles, whether through the AIA or civic organizations, and nationally, through the AIA. Mr. Phelps was instrumental in saving the LA Public Library from demolition.

Greg Goldin: co-author of Never Built Los Angeles and Never Built New York, Mr. Goldin was for many years the architecture critic for Los Angeles Magazine. He lives within two blocks of the museum, and so has his finger on the pulse of what’s going on there and in the neighborhood. He is co-chair of The Citizens’ Brigade to Save LACMA.

Joseph Giovannini: A prominent critic, journalist, author, teacher and architectural designer, Giovannini earned his master's degree at Harvard University's Graduate School of Design and runs his own practice, Giovannini Associates. He is the architecture critic of the Los Angeles Review of Books, and co-chairs The Citizens’ Brigade to Save LACMA.

J. Patrice Marandel: the former Chief curator of the European Art at LACMA, Patrice has been and remains an advisor to the Ahmanson Foundation. 

William Pedersen:  a co-founder of the New York-based architectural firm, Kohn Pedersen Fox, Bill has designed a wide range of buildings internationally, from museums to educational structures to some of the tallest skyscrapers in the world. 

Winka Dubbeldam: Head of the New York-based architectural practice Archi-Tectonics, with projects from New York to China, Ms. Dubbeldam has taught architecture at Columbia and Harvard, and now heads the architecture school at the University of Pennsylvania. 

John Walsh: Mr. Walsh is the former head of the J. Paul Getty Museum, and before that he worked at the Frick, the MET and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. He guided the Getty through the construction of the Meier-designed project. He commented on final submissions.

See the Leading Ideas designed from the ground up HERE.

See the Leading Ideas using existing LACMA buildings HERE.

Vote on your favorite in each category HERE. 

(Voting will be open until May 15th)

“We at The Citizens’ Brigade to Save LACMA are impressed with the creativity, sensitivity, and passion these international architects brought to their ideas, as well as the generosity of their considerable time and effort.”

Joseph Giovannini,
Co-chair, Citizens' Brigade to Save LACMA
“Our aim is to open a constructive dialogue about LACMA’s future by offering creative new workable alternatives that will invite the public into a process that better serves the taxpayers of Los Angeles County and the many people around the world who have loved LACMA’s collections for the past 55 years.”
Joseph Giovannini
Co-chair, Citizens' Brigade to Save LACMA