Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Six Reasons Why Zumthor's New Design for LACMA Can Never Be Built

Kevin Roderick over at LA OBSERVED has the best round-up of articles on architect Peter Zumthor's latest revised design for a new LACMA; a design that now crosses Wilshire Boulevard and  incorporates part of the parking lot (and future LACMA development site) across the street.  This was done to lessen the building's impact on the tar pits in Hancock Park.  But by doing this, new problems have been created - two of which are large enough to - in my opinion - kill the project once they are properly considered.

But there is a potential solution to this possible stalemate..  Build a new museum on the parking lot parcel - which eliminates the need to demolish any of the existing buildings at this time - and then decide what to do with the rest of the campus.

Below are the six reason why I feel this project will not go forward.  But it is really reason number 6 - and 5 to a lesser extent - that I feel will make the project impossible to construct.  But first read Kevin Roderick's summary.

1.  The original LACMA buildings - though not the great architecture they could have been if Mies van der Rohe had been selected - are increasingly emblematic of their time and are now an important part of our social and cultural heritage.  The complex is also reaching an age when the merits of its urban planning design and its architectural style are able to be better appreciated and evaluated.

The Anderson building is more problematic.  Its architecture is merely typical of hundreds of buildings of its time and its awkward siting disrupted the entrance to the original complex.  Still, with a new architect, the Anderson might be reconfigured to play another role or be totally remodeled/rebuilt to become part of  the new building design and possibly the new main entrance to the complex.

Ideally, the Bart Prince designed Pavilion for Japanese Art would also be kept.

2.  The proposed new building still remains a sprawling blob with no clear entrance and no obvious connection with either the sidewalk or the street.  It remains an alien object hovering over Wilshire; an object seemingly meant to be driven by - and driven under - but never actually entered.  It is the literal recreation of the old Los Angeles myth that LA is not a city but only 37 suburbs in search of a city. Now, granted, those who already regularly go to art museums will likely find the alien quality of the structure - towering above them on 30 foot silicon legs, intriguing.  But it is far less likely that those who already find art museums too intimidating will feel welcomed by this structure.

3.  The sprawling floor plan is a museum goers nightmare.  By going horizontal rather than vertical - besides eating up all the usable land on the existing site and destroying the viability of the site across the street - Zumthor makes navigating the museum much harder.

Tourists already suffering from museum feet after days of walking and locals who want to stop by for an hour to see some of their favorites will no longer be able to take an elevator in the Ahmanson or the Anderson and find what they want to see.  They will instead have to walk far longer distances to get from one part of the museum to the other.  This design is to museums what urban sprawl is to cities.

4.  The new building will still plunge everything under it into darkness.  But that shadow now also includes Wilshire Boulevard and the sidewalks  on both sides of the street.  Unlike the Getty or the present LACMA complex (which allow you to go out into the sunlight and the fresh air of a plaza between each building to refresh your palate), Zumthor rejects any interaction with the ground or the outside world other than viewing it from up high through windows.

5.  Unexpectedly, this latest plan also has the side affect of making any major future, logical expansion of the museum - close to impossible.  By having the building across Wilshire and incorporating the middle of the parcel across the street that LACMA had  bought for future development - Zumthor not only destroys what previous architects have built - but he also destroys the ability for LACMA to have any future architect develop a major building on the other site - or on any other part of the existing LACMA campus

And now that the May Company - which was originally going to be part of LACMA before it became the Hollywood Museum (one of the brilliant moves Michael Govan has made since taking the reins at LACMA) is gone and with the new building now being forced to sprawl over all the developable land on the other side of Wilshire, any major future expansion will have to occur on another site.

And since the Los Angeles County Museum of Art is only LA museum that collects the entire history of  art and in every possible medium from medieval armor to contemporary fashion to antique zoetropes - the only way it can compete for major donations for its dozens of different collections  - is by having the land for major donors to build the spaces needed to greatly expand those collections.

6.  Finally - here is the last - and most important - reason why this plan can never never be built.

Throughout history art has found itself under attack by those who oppose the culture it sprang from.  Al Queda's destruction of major cultural monuments in Afghanistan and the current destruction of  'offensive'  art and artifacts in Iraq are only two of many recent examples  And if LACMA  constructs a massive art museum over Wilshire Boulevard that millions of people will pass under each year -will  create not just a target  - but the perfect target imaginable for those who oppose the cultures that created that art.

All it will take is one person - a single Timothy McVeigh - or a solitary terrorist with misguided religious beliefs  -  to detonate a truck filled with explosives - or a portable bomb - while driving under LACMA to bring the building's connection over Wilshire tumbling down  And there is no way that type of attack can be prevented.

So by building a museum filled with thousands of years of Western (and non-Western) art over a major iconic road in the heart of a major city, LACMA will be creating a uniquely - and totally unnecessarily vulnerable -  target; a compelling, failure free target perfect for any international terrorist group  - or any single person - wanting to attack that culture.

And that alone is reason enough not to build this project.


Plan-it Los Angeles said...

Subway construction will continue through 2023 at this location. I doubt that you can have a functioning Bus Rapid Transit on Wilshire Boulevard, as well as elaborate construction of stations, arrival and departure linkages, and underground facilities while you are also building a giant structure above and across Wilshire Boulevard at nearly the same location. To undertake these projects simultaneously, as well as the new film event center and museum a block away only reveals how little communication is taking place between LACMA, METRO, and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. And, let's not forget that the Peterson Museum also plans for a major design make-over while all this is happening above oozing tar and toxic hydrogen sulfide.

Joe Van De Veere said...

And - you know - whenever I travel around the world, and people find out I'm from Los Angeles - the first thing the breathlessly ask about are the tar pits. Yes, lets recapitulate THAT as the "image" of our city. Personally, I feel Zumthor's design is gigantic middle finger hoisted at Los Angeles, and in particular, Los Angeles' architectural history. Stop the Zumthor Blot.

alan taylor said...

Thus sounds as if the creature from The Blob is loose in mid Wilshire. I don't believe it should be allowed to envelope the entire available site, consider soaring not sprawling.