Plans for LACMA's multi-million redesign unveiled in new exhibit

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The Los Angeles County Museum of Art is poised for a massive redesign, and what more appropriate way to put it on display than through an exhibition at LACMA itself?

The exhibit, titled “The Presence of the past: Peter Zumthor reconsiders LACMA,” debuts Sunday and takes a look at the history of the museum and its surrounding neighborhood.

Going back as far as 50,000 years, the new installation will include fossils from the Pleistocene era, as well as decades-old photographs, drawings and architectural models of some of the museum's unrealized plans.

The exhibit's three sections feature the history of the Hancock Park area, a look at architect Zumthor's previous work, and a peek at what LACMA's future may look like. This portion of the show includes a concrete model of Zumthor's plans for the museum's massive (and expensive) redesign. The multi-million project includes demolishing four older structures and replacing them with one-new, mostly glass, building.

From above, the proposed building looks like a splattered water droplet that wraps around the Pavilion for Japanese Art and hovers partially over the La Brea Tar Pits. In a statement, Zumthor described the new building as being an "organic shape, like a water lily" as well as having "a unique, urbanistic energy."

"It really has no front, no back," said LACMA CEO Michael Govan. "It's a continuous curving facade of glass."

Govan said the sprawling structure will have a black roof covered in solar panels. 

"The idea is that the building is horiztonal and can soak up the California sun," he said. "It will give back more energy to the city than it uses."

Although multiple media reports estimate the cost of the new building at $650 million, Govan said this number was "premature." He said erecting a new structure may be expensive, but it fixing the problematic older buildings would also cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

“If you need to raise hundreds of millions of dollars in either case, toward what would people be willing to contribute?" said Govan. "And that’s part of the question: Can we present an idea that’s exciting enough, energy efficient, art efficient, educational, fantastic atmosphere, gives back the park? Is that what will draw support? And I think it will.”

Govan said in a statement that he and Zumthor began brainstorming transformations for the museum in 2006, and have since developed a preliminary plan that would create a new LACMA that would be "responsive to its existing environment" and had "the potential to inspire its future."  

This isn't the first time in recent history that the museum has considered a design change.

About 11 years ago, the LACMA board proposed a $300 million redesign that would feature the work of Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas.

That plan sputtered and stalled a few years later.

Govan said LACMA decided to present the "mid-stream" idea for the redesign after the organizers of the Getty's Pacific Standard Time initiative asked the museum to be part of their "Modern Architecture in L.A. series." He said this will allow LACMA to get feedback from the public.

"Everybody has a stake in LACMA. It's a community museum," said Govan. 

“The Presence of the past: Peter Zumthor reconsiders LACMA," opens Sunday, June 9 and runs until September 15. 

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