LACMA pledges to protect La Brea Tar Pits

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LOS ANGELES (CNS) – Los Angeles County Museum of Art officials — in the early stages of redesigning part of its Wilshire Boulevard campus — pledged today to work with neighboring Page Museum to protect the Rancho La Brea Tar Pits during the renovation.

LACMA’s preliminary proposal, by Swiss architect Peter Zumthor, shows a dramatic new design with a cantilevered roof that would “severely impact” several of the tar pits, according to Jane Pisano, president and director of the National History Museum, which owns the Page.

The overhang would change the natural setting, blocking light, air and weather that affect plant life and put the Page in the shadow of LACMA.

Pisano told the county Board of Supervisors she would take LACMA CEO and Director Michael Govan at his word, but there was “a long way to go” to make sure the tar pits, part of an active scientific research site, are not diminished. The concentration of ice-age fossils reveal not only important information about the past but clues about climate change that impact the future, Pisano said.

Govan told the board that the design being circulated is “very, very preliminary” and hadn’t even been reviewed by the museum’s technical experts. The cantilever over the Page’s “lake pit” is set to be changed.

LACMA has already gone through an evolution that Supervisor Mark Ridley- Thomas called “nothing short of extraordinary.” Raising $650 million over the last 10 years, it doubled its exhibition space, added extensively to its collections and doubled attendance in the last five years to 1.2 million visitors annually.

The museum also acquired a building once occupied by the May Co. to serve as a new museum for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, set to open in 2017.

But the four buildings on the eastern side of the LACMA campus need to be brought up to code at an estimated cost of $317 million.

Given the size of that commitment, LACMA has an “incredible opportunity” to go beyond fixing its “aging and ailing 1960s and 80s buildings” to create “a museum that will be more accessible to the public than any that has been designed anywhere in the world,” Govan said. “We’ve learned so much in the last 30 years about how people visit museums.”

The redesign would allow pedestrians to view art through the glass walls of the museum even when exhibits are closed.

“Any decent architectural plan is going to be controversial,” Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said, citing the Walt Disney Concert Hall as an example and admitting that he wasn’t initially a fan of LACMA’s proposed design, but that it has grown on him.

“The vision you have is bold, ambitious and I have every confidence that it is going to succeed,” Yaroslavsky said.

Govan emphasized his commitment to collaborating with his counterparts at the NHM and Page, at one point saying LACMA would “guarantee” that the final building design is sensitive to the mission of the Page Museum and would mitigate any environmental impacts.

The three museums are expected to sign an agreement documenting their commitment to work together on the project.

The next two years will be spent on a feasibility study and the work is expected to take place between now and 2023.

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