Riding the momentum of a decade of unprecedented transformation, LACMA is in the midst of the Building LACMA campaign, the centerpiece of which is the creation of a new home for LACMA’s permanent collection. Designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Peter Zumthor and named the David Geffen Galleries, this building marks the culmination of a 20-year plan to transform LACMA’s Wilshire campus. The first phase of the plan was completed with the opening of BCAM in 2008 and the Resnick Exhibition Pavilion in 2010.
The David Geffen Galleries fits into a larger vision for LACMA to redefine and maximize the potential of a museum with diverse collections, offering an alternative to the traditional encyclopedic museum model. Extending across Wilshire Boulevard, the horizontal design of the elevated gallery floor provides for a non-hierarchical approach to displaying art, placing art from all areas of the museum’s collections on an equal level. The form of the exhibition level symbolizes LACMA’s commitment to an open, accessible, and varied presentation of its collections and to engaging the many audiences across the County of Los Angeles.
The history of art is long, but the history of museums is short. The art museum as we know it has existed for less than three hundred years, a cabinet of far-flung curiosities first created for societies not yet familiar with the airplane, the television, or the internet. So much has changed in the world; the art museum must evolve as well.
Peter Zumthor’s plan for the new building to house LACMA’s galleries offers an alternative to the traditional museum model. His design is grounded in his commitment to creating “emotional space,” which mirrors LACMA’s own mission to cultivate meaningful connections between art and the people appreciating it.
Glass walls invite museum visitors to look out at the landscape and light of Los Angeles, and allow passersby to see in. This translucent exterior visually connects the galleries to everyday life on Wilshire Boulevard and in the surrounding park, and offers spectacular views of the city and mountains beyond. Zumthor’s design also adds ample new public outdoor space to create an even more accessible cultural and social hub for the community.
The horizontality of the new building is both a reflection of Los Angeles and a core concept within LACMA’s vision for presenting the permanent collection. It positions art from all areas of the museum’s diverse collections on the same plane, to better accommodate the shift in LACMA’s curatorial strategy from fixed presentations to rotating exhibitions of the permanent collection. The building is designed to mirror the diversity of our vast city and, through design and spirit, to advance LACMA’s mission to serve the public by encouraging profound cultural experiences for the widest array of audiences.
In order to build on the success and legacy of LACMA’s more than 50 years, the museum must lay a strong foundation for the future now. With extraordinary support from the County of Los Angeles and the Board of Trustees, as well as leadership gifts from David Geffen—whose historic gift is recognized in the building’s name, the David Geffen Galleries—and a number of other donors, fundraising for the project has been extremely successful and only continues to exceed expectations.
This success, as well as the recent formal approval of the project by the County of Los Angeles Board of Supervisors, means the museum stands poised to complete the next step in its transformation, creating a landmark that will identify LACMA for its next 50 years and beyond.
CEO and Wallis Annenberg Director
What does the new building project entail?
The building project entails the construction of one modern and efficient building to replace four aging buildings (Ahmanson, Art of the Americas, Bing, Hammer), as well as the construction of a parking structure on Ogden Drive to replace the spaces on the existing Spaulding parking lot. The goal is to improve the experience, safety, and functionality with a new building.
Why is LACMA replacing its old buildings?
The buildings to be replaced have many serious structural issues and problems with plumbing, sewage, lack of seismic isolation and methane mitigation, defunct waterproofing, and leaks, compromising their ability to host our visitors and hold our collections. To retrofit the existing buildings would be extremely costly while still failing to provide the setting most appropriate for the collections and visitors.
Why can’t you repair the buildings you have?
Almost 20 years ago the County of Los Angeles Board of Supervisors and LACMA’s Board of Trustees considered repairing the structures, and both, then and in 2014, found the retrofitting cost prohibitive. Five years ago, to retrofit just the visible deterioration was estimated at a minimum of $246 million. Constructing new not only creates a safer building, but a plan for new galleries could also be designed to be more accessible, more functional, and more enjoyable. LACMA sits near seismic faults and on methane and tar, so having a robust foundation with seismic isolation, methane mitigation, and waterproofing systems is critical.
Why are the galleries one level?
The horizontal design offers a non-hierarchical display of art—a fresh, Los Angeles perspective on the experience of a big art museum. The single-level gallery floor will be more intuitive to navigate and easier to access, especially for wheelchairs and strollers, and its perimeter of transparent glass will provide energizing natural light and views to the park and urban environment, with views from outside into the galleries. Most importantly, the display of all art on one level avoids giving more prominence to any specific culture, tradition, or era, offering visitors a multitude of perspectives on art and art history in a more accessible, inclusive way.
Why does the building cross Wilshire Boulevard?
The building will cross Wilshire in order to provide more open park and outdoor space for the Natural History Museum’s research and for visitors in Hancock Park. As a result of this design, we are able to create 3.5 acres of new park and open space, which is suitable and fitting for a key destination for the arts in Southern California. The new park and open space will be home to even more public sculptures and is a huge gain for our open space-starved urban environment.
How big will the new building be?
While replacing nearly all of the existing galleries in the four aging buildings, the new building totals 347,500 square feet, replacing approximately 393,000 square feet of existing buildings. There will be approximately 110,000 square feet of gallery space, replacing approximately 120,000 square feet of gallery space. The reduction in total size for the new building as compared to the ones being replaced is achieved by moving functions not needed in the building itself: moving offices across the street to expand our existing office space at 5900 Wilshire and moving art storage out of Hancock Park. We will also add 3.5 acres of new park and open space. The building includes a new theater, education spaces, three restaurant/cafes, a museum shop, and covered multipurpose event spaces. The new facility includes much-needed and improved ancillary and back-of-house facilities that support LACMA’s public programs, including two loading docks and enhanced security, facilities operations, visitor services, transit art handling, and more.
How did you reduce the size of the new building from the size of the existing buildings?
The reduction in total size is possible by moving functions not needed within the building itself: moving offices across the street to expand our existing office space at 5900 Wilshire and moving art storage out of Hancock Park. During the process of advancing the design and cost management, the new building was reduced in size compared to the original project presented in the Draft EIR to achieve a balance of quantity and quality of the space, while keeping the design intent, providing a robust seismic structural design and efficient building systems, and staying within the project budget. The gallery space will be more efficient in this new design and LACMA’s robust outdoor offerings will be expanded.
How much will LACMA’s gallery space have increased in total once the new building is completed?
By the time the new building opens, we will have expanded our total gallery space in 15 years from approximately 130,000 to 220,000 square feet.
Does LACMA need more gallery space in its Wilshire campus?
LACMA’s Board of Trustees and the County Board of Supervisors all believe that after doubling our exhibition space over the last decade, this is the appropriate size for our campus on Wilshire. We are lucky to be surrounded by other amazing cultural attractions, including the Petersen Automotive Museum, the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures (opening in late 2019), NHM La Brea Tar Pits & Museum, and Craft Contemporary.
What is the budget for the new building?
The total building budget is $650 million, which includes construction costs, soft costs, and contingencies. Of the $650 million, the construction costs (“hard costs”) are estimated at $490 million. The construction cost is in line with similar projects and the cost per square foot of LACMA's other gallery buildings, BCAM and Resnick Exhibition Pavilion, designed by Renzo Piano (adjusted for inflation, since those buildings are a decade old).
How is this new building being funded?
This new building is funded through an unprecedented public/private partnership where the County of Los Angeles will contribute $125 million and $525 million will be provided by private donations. The County will receive a 4:1 match for its contribution.
How much has been raised?
Approximately $640 million has been raised to date, which includes a $150 million lead gift from philanthropist and entertainment executive David Geffen, the County’s $125 million contribution, a gift from LACMA Board Co-Chair Elaine Wynn, a significant pledge from the late A. Jerrold Perenchio, along with LACMA’s board of trustees and other major philanthropists. The museum’s board of trustees and leadership are actively engaged in securing the remaining amount.
How much is the construction cost per square foot?
The construction cost is approximately $1,400 per square foot, which is toward the low end of the range for new museum construction (the current national market range for new museum construction is $1,250 to $1,800 per square feet in major metro areas). Out of the $650 million budget, the total construction cost is approximately $490 million. $490 million divided by 347,500 square feet is equal to $1,400 per square foot.
Is LACMA reducing space for the permanent collection?
No. What’s important for us is the total amount of gallery space. LACMA has always displayed the permanent collection in special exhibitions in BCAM and the Resnick Pavilion, for example an exhibition of selections from the museum’s costume and textile holdings (the current Power of Pattern as well as 2016’s Reigning Men: Fashion in Menswear, 1715–2015); contemporary Iranian Art (In the Fields of Empty Days: The Intersection of Past and Present in Iranian Art); and the 2016 Robert Mapplethorpe exhibition. The first floor of BCAM exhibits some of our most treasured permanent collection works, such as Richard Serra’s Band and Robert Irwin’s Miracle Mile. The four aging buildings have displayed special exhibitions as well. Also, the new building gives us the flexibility to either present permanent collections as temporary exhibitions, giving visitors more reasons to visit often, or to display collection areas for longer periods.
The new building has a lot of glass. Aren't museums supposed to avoid natural light?
Many of the works in our collection (for instance, sculpture, tiles, and ceramics) can be displayed in natural light, and are in fact wonderful to view in that setting. The new building will have a range of exhibition spaces, from galleries with natural light to galleries with controlled artificial lighting for light-sensitive works. The majority of galleries in the new building are designed to be able to display light-sensitive works. Natural light and views to the park along the perimeter of the building also will reduce fatigue in our visitors.
Why are the gallery walls concrete?
We chose concrete walls to give the building a sublime aesthetic character and beautiful sense of gravitas. Concrete walls have been utilized successfully in other museums like the Kimbell, the Guggenheim, and Kunsthaus Bregenz. Not one artist whose work was displayed at Bregenz has ever covered that museum's walls with sheetrock. Additionally, many objects and antiquities in our collection originated in buildings or other settings built from stone, so it is particularly fitting to display them in concrete-walled galleries.
Will Urban Light be moved?
Urban Light will stay in place and visitors will continue to be able to enjoy the artwork.
Is the construction on the former May Company building part of LACMA's project?
No. The construction on the former May Company building is the new Academy Museum of Motion Pictures being built by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The globe-shaped structure that is visible to the west of LACMA houses their theater.
Where would LACMA expand in the future?
LACMA is pursuing its next expansion through satellite spaces across L.A. County, enhancing the accessibility of our collections and bringing art and art education to communities throughout our vast county. We already have ongoing exhibition, education, and public programming at Charles White Elementary School in MacArthur Park, collaborations with the Vincent Price Art Museum in East Los Angeles College in Monterey Park, and museum satellites currently being planned in South L.A.
What is the timeline for the new building?
LACMA will move its staff and art out of the four aging buildings and will begin abatement in the Fall of 2019. Construction is slated to begin in early 2020. The building will be completed by the end of 2023.
Peter Zumthor was born in Basel, Switzerland, in 1943. As a teenager he learned cabinetmaking from his father and then studied architecture at the Kunstgewerbeschule in Basel and later at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. In 1979 he established his own architectural practice in Haldenstein, Switzerland, where he still works with a small staff.
While much of his work is in Switzerland, Zumthor has also designed buildings in Great Britain, Germany, Austria, and Norway. He has been a professor at the Accademia di Architettura Mendrisio, Switzerland; the University of Southern California and the Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc), Los Angeles; the Technische Universität, Munich; and the Graduate School of Design, Harvard University, Cambridge.
He has received numerous awards throughout his career, including the field’s highest honor, the Pritzker Prize, in 2009; the Praemium Imperiale from the Imperial Family of Japan on behalf of the Japan Art Association in 2008; the Royal Gold Medal from the Royal Institute of British Architects in 2013; and the Großer BDA Preis from the Association of German Architects in 2017.
Zumthor’s designs are distinguished by their clarity of thought, mastery of light, and poetic relationships to their sites. As former Pritzker Prize jury chairman The Lord Palumbo stated, “Zumthor has a keen ability to create places that are much more than a single building. His architecture expresses respect for the primacy of the site, the legacy of a local culture and the invaluable lessons of architectural history.”
Summing up his intentions in his 1998 treatise Thinking Architecture, Zumthor wrote, “In a society that celebrates the inessential, architecture can put up a resistance, counteract the waste of forms and meanings, and speak its own language. Every building is built for a specific use in a specific place and for a specific society. My buildings try to answer the questions that emerge from these simple facts as precisely and critically as they can.”