Sunday, July 20, 2014

Superb Essay on Why Not Only Zumthor's Design for LACMA is a Disaster - But Why Zumthor Himself is Wrong for LACMA - And Los Angeles! UPDATE at End!

Today's issue of LARB (The Los Angeles Review of Books - which you should be subscribing to if you aren't already) has a stunning take down of Peter Zumthor's disastrous design for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. It is titled:

A U-Turn on Wilshire: Why Frank Gehry Should Design LACMA

And in it architect, teacher and critic, Joseph Giovannini, explains - in detail not just what is wrong with this design, but he then looks at Zumthor's entire career to demonstrate why he is the wrong architect for this job. And, finally, he goes into the reasons why Zumthor is simply not equipped with the specific skills a project of this size and complexity demands.  Other critics have danced around these issues, but only Giovannini has had the balls to come out and state - this Emperor has no clothes.  Concurrently, Giovannini makes an equally strong case why it is now time to give the project to Frank Gehry.  And I agree.

Now I do disagree with Giovannbini on the quality and usefulness of the original three building complex, but I completely agree with each of his objections to the Zumthor design, its proposed expansion over Wilshire Boulevard and I particularly agree with his detailed reasoning why Zumthor simply does not have the skill set - or the understanding of Los Angeles - to build a project of this complexity.

I also fully agree with his deserved praise of Michael Govan's tenure at LACMA - and agree Govan has done an incredible job revitalizing the entire institution.  But I also agree that the time has come for Govan to admit that Zumtor (as brilliant as his jewel box buildings in the Alps are)  simply is not right for LACMA - and that it is time to move on.

Here is the beginning of the article:
ADDING INSULT TO MEDIOCRITY, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art now proposes oozing the oil slick of a building that Swiss architect Peter Zumthor proposed a year ago for the museum campus across Wilshire to a site on a corner opposite. The long, sad tradition of architecture going so wrong at LACMA sees no sign of reversing itself — this is no Rialto Bridge swanning gracefully across Los Angeles’s foremost ceremonial boulevard, but a cross between a pod, a pancake, and a freeway overpass, in black concrete. Perhaps the whole LACMA site is architecturally cursed by the spirit of vengeful mastodons and saber-toothed tigers still trapped in the pits, as, one after another, architects seem to fall into the slough of despond. In this case Zumthor is said to have admitted the shape of the building was actually inspired by the tar pool, so his capitulation to the pits, even as a metaphor, is voluntary and self-inflicted.

The modification of the original plan to shift galleries south away from the tar pool across Wilshire was forced by the Page Museum to protect its still active and vulnerable paleontological site. But as revised, the new proposal only confirms and extends the original mistake, an amoeba-shaped design that LACMA made public in an exhibition last year, “The Presence of the Past: Peter Zumthor Reconsiders LACMA.” (The title of the show, incidentally, copied that of the first International Architecture Exhibition at the Venice Biennale in 1980.) The entire project, the original core proposal and its Wilshire extension, should be rethought before any commitment becomes irreversible, probably with a change of architect, possibly with a change of museological scope and mission. If the museum proposes spending $650 million to replace the existing buildings by William Pereira and Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer, LACMA, Angelenos, and the collections deserve better.

Now go to the Los Angeles Review of Books and read the rest of the story:

Here was my response on Facebook to those skeptical of Frank Gehry being hired:
Frank Gehry has learned a lot over the years about how a building needs to connect to the ground and to the sidewalk. As just one recent example, his current plan for Grand Avenue is a vast improvement over his previous design. In addition, Gehry's company now knows how to design buildings that can be built within a budget. So I am confident he will do a far better job with LACMA than he would have 5 or 10 years ago.
But - to look at this from a strictly pragmatic POV - the only realistic way Govan and LACMA can step away from Zumthor - is to replace him with not just at an unquestionably greater architect, but by a hometown local hero who has been too often overlooked for major commissions while the rest of the world begs for his services. And the fact Gehry can design a project of this scale to meet a budget (something Zumthor has never even attempted) - and he has a company that will oversee that budget, gives LACMA even more justification - and street cred - for making the switch.  It will soon be clear it is the only financially prudent thing they can do.

1 comment:

Carol Diehl said...

My biggest objection to Gehry as museum architect is that, for the entire Vuitton, there is one teeny bathroom. Patrons were ranting about this at the opening. Makes me wonder if he is taking the most basic needs into consideration.