A First Look at Peter Zumthor’s Design for the LACMA

© 2013 Museum Associates /

Coming at a crucial time in which Los Angeles is at risk of “losing its reputation as a center for innovative architecture,” museum director Michael Govan and Swiss architect Peter Zumthor have unveiled preliminary plans for what they hope will be the new home of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). If approved, this $650 million proposal – nearly six years in the making – would replace the dated William Pereira-designed campus and its 1986 Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer Associates-designed addition with an organically-shaped, energy efficient, dark-grey concrete and glass Zumthor original.

More information after the break, including Peter Zumthor’s project description…

© 2013 Museum Associates / LACMA

Dubbed by Zumthor as the “Black Flower,” the new museum’s undulating facade will occupy over 700 feet along Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles’ Miracle Mile district. Unlike the LACMA’s current restricted and confusing “Byzantine maze of buildings and hallways,” Zumthor’s design would act as a user-based “village” of experiences with several access points and routes. Just as one would wander through a forest, as described by Zumthor, spectators will be welcomed from all sides of the building and encouraged to explore its contents via a route of their own choice.

© 2013 Museum Associates / LACMA

As winding bicycle paths and walkways inhabit the landscape on the ground floor, the building’s main level will be hoisted more than 30 feet into the air atop seven separate “pods.” Each of these uniquely designed pods will contain a staircase and ground level storage capable of exhibiting its contents to the public 24/7 through illuminated floor-to-ceiling glass walls.

© 2013 Museum Associates / LACMA
Once visitors arise to the museum’s main floor, they will be confronted with the choice of exploring a series of orthogonal ”cores and clusters” – which offer the exhibiting artist a wonderful selection of space and light - or gravitate towards a meandering path which follows the edge of the building and provides views to the city below. In this space, climate control will be efficiently achieved through the floor’s integrated water system that will keep the building at a steady temperature.
© 2013 Museum Associates / LACMA

Stretching towards the east, the structure will cantilever over the black pools of La Brea Tar Pits – a naturally occurring group of tar pits which make up Hancock Park – while to its west it will neighbor Renzo Piano‘s travertine-clad Broad Contemporary Art Museum and Chris Burden’s “Urban Light” installation. Its black roof will harvest the sun through a series of skylights and one of the largest solar farms known in any urban environment that is capable of providing more energy that it consumes.

© 2013 Museum Associates / LACMA

Peter Zumthor’s Project Statement:

The proposed building for LACMA is intended to have a unique urbanistic energy. It is big and stands apart from other buildings yet is completely integrated into its environment.

It is an organic shape, like a water lily, floating and open with 360 degrees of glass facing Hancock Park, the La Brea Tar Pits, Wilshire Boulevard, Chris Burden’s Urban Light, and Renzo Piano’s new galleries. Primary circulation is achieved by this curving perimeter—a continuous veranda rather than a classical Beaux-Arts spine. Visitors can look out; those outside can look in. From the ground, and in elevation, the museum is mostly transparent.

© 2013 Museum Associates / LACMA

Formally, the design emphasizes Los Angeles and the western United States in its horizontality, re-exposing the sky that is now blocked by existing structures. A huge roof covered in solar tiles literally soaks up the energy of the California sun. The building gives more energy back to its neighbors than it takes from the city. It draws the Pacific Ocean breezes to cool its southern exposure.

The proposed building is intended to create a cultural and social place. It offers a multilayered understanding and experience—from the everyday life on the street to a peaceful appreciation of individual artworks. Around more “sacred” galleries are open, casual spaces. The grand scale of the organic whole is assembled from smaller pieces within, providing a village of experiences.

© 2013 Museum Associates / LACMA

Govan and Zumthor hope to gain support for the project at the LACMA exhibition “The Presence of the Past: Peter Zumthor Reconsiders LACMA”, which starts June 9. More information can be found here.  

Reference: LACMA, Los Angeles Times architecture critic Christopher Hawthrone

Cite: Rosenfield, Karissa. "A First Look at Peter Zumthor’s Design for the LACMA" 05 Jun 2013. ArchDaily. Accessed 27 May 2015. <http://www.archdaily.com/?p=383406>
  • A

    Let’s just stand up and take our hats…

  • James MD

    This is very unfortunate. Zumthor is good at what he does, but what he does is essentially the opposite of what LA stands for – ie heterogeneity. This project is more or less a black SANAA project. I think it fundamentally falls short of understanding Los Angeles, or even showing enough respect or intellectual rigor to try. Zumthor is comfortable in the mountains doing hermetic projects that speak to a kind of rugged Swiss/German phenomenological understanding of space and place. Outside of that, Zumthor gets very very lost and tragically oversimplifies things in cultures that aren’t as monolithic as where he comes from. Ultimately it’s ego. As a Swiss/German who’s proud of where he comes from and what he stands for, he just doesn’t think he needs to adapt. But that’s a fundamental and irreconcilable flaw if he wants to do work in the US, especially in LA. Unfortunate.

    • idle_crane

      The topology would suggest that this is a Black variation of Rolex Foundation. I would have expected this to be more.

      I would paraphrase Alain de Botton to highlight the fundamental cultural difference between US and Europe, that in US everyone is deemed special, whereas in Europe, everyone is entitled to be normal. I would suggest that this building is an attempt to render everything into a elevated state of normal, so to speak.

      • seriously

        do you know anything about architecture? do you actually know what the EPFL learning centre is?!
        Seems as though as soon as you put curves on a building like, you’re accused of copying sanaa…

    • Laszlo Kovacs


    • bumsti

      I think YOU fundamentally fall short of understanding the Project, or even showing enough respect or intellectual rigor to try !

      What a great Project!

      • nullhogarth

        This project shows no respect or understanding for its site or the city. It is an atrocity that must not ever see the light of day.

    • david

      and you can tell all of this… WOW!

    • JeffP

      Thank you for one of the most insightful comments I’ve seen on an architecture blog in a long time. It’s so funny how everyone is unwilling/unable to criticize Zumthor in any fashion, and when someone does critique him, his zealot followers get all crazy (compare the voting tallies for the various comments). He’s a good architect, but not above criticism and not everything he touches turns to gold – this is one example of a poorly designed project. Keep in mind that this was a marketing exercise, not a final proposed design. I think this project should go through a competition also, as I do not think Zumthor is the appropriate choice here. Seems like LACMA is star-chasing with their choice.

  • Margie

    I couldn’t think of a more suitable practice to create a place for cultural experience in LA than Peter Zumthor’s. What a difficult brief!

  • nils

    and again, americans complain about the correct handrail, when beauty appears right infront of their eyes. zumthor? do you guys get anything? since maybe mies there has been nobody to understand place better than him. just my humble oppinion. and swiss is not germany. even the language differs british/americans.

  • Sorongo

    Another splatter mark on the face of the architecture profession.
    Why Zumthor and not an open competition? Why would LACMA pay one firm to spit out one idea instead of giving hundreds of firms the chance to share their vision for free?
    LACMA looked unreliable in 2001 when they awarded and then discarded OMA’s winning entry (to save the same buildings they now want to tear down). They looked erratic later on when they built Renzo Piano’s buildings with no sense of master plan. Stay tuned, they’re about to screw it up again. Where is the AIA when you need it?

  • nullhogarth

    This is simply awful. What massive ego. What ugliness.
    While acknowledging that the truly creative is always initially perceived as ugly, so is the truly worthless.

  • nullhogarth

    I will do everything in my power to prevent this project from realization. This is an abomination. Los Angeles deserves better than an inkblot.

  • Luuuc Tessier

    Do I see 8 meter high (26+ feet) glass curvaceous panels? Olala. I’m glad I’m not paying for that…

  • Patrick H

    I actually like the project. Yes, it is one big monolith, but that’s OK — remember, they are replacing dozens of unrelated buildings with one unified experience. (And just because LA is heterogenous doesn’t mean every individual building should be heterogenous.) Also, lifting the majority of the building off the ground (freeing up ground space for public uses) is a huge gift to the people of LA. Finally, the horizontal/organic shape recalls Googie architecture, long associated with the American West. Thumbs up from this LA-area resident.

  • Kyle Keirsey

    The only complaint I really have is that it might get a little hot being black and fully glazed on all surfaces–will be a fortune to keep it cool.

    • Chris

      It is supposed to be covered wholly by solar panels I hear..

  • James MD

    To flip this on Zumthor would be to build a giant schnitzel next to his hermit office up in the mountains. Yes, oil slick, tar pits, LA, so smart. Sheesh. Interesting to note that nobody who supports the project in these comments can do it without bashing LA, its supposed lack of culture, or Americans in general, and I think that’s exactly what Zumthor had in mind too – which is an ironic comment on “culture”… coming from a hermit. Way too much insult, arrogance, and LA bashing in this project and from its supporters. Why would we want to build a museum that mocks Los Angeles? LA has 6 of the top 50 greenest cities in America. I don’t think we have to put up with dismissive statements about oil from an elitist Swiss architect and his supporters in a city as progressive and diverse as Los Angeles. If Zumthor has nothing else to say about LA than what this project shows us, then it should be scrapped and a talented LA firm who understands the city should be hired. End of story.

    • Leo Ximenes

      Here are my late two cents:
      Traditional museum design forces the visitor to peruse all the galleries, which makes the whole experience often exhausting. Either that, or you take a flyer at the entrance and go directly to what you want to see, without even bothering with the rest.
      Here, for the first time maybe, museumgoers are able to pick and choose what to take in. Imagine walking along the perimeter with a friend on a sunny day and being able to say: ‘hey, lets go inside and take a closer look at that Kandinsky over there!’ Or doing the same thing while on your bikes! All of a sudden, feeding on art becomes way less formal; the museum becomes a ‘park’ almost, an extension of the city. Mind you, such idea is only viable in a city like Los Angeles, with its friendly climate and outdoor culture. This reveals a deep awareness and application of the main features of a local culture, as opposed to simply ‘dressing’ a building a certain way.
      This project makes me glad to see that, at least to a few brilliant colleagues, Architecture is still more than gift-wrapping space.

  • ZumthorFanatic

    The ones above who made some incredibly ignorant comments about this wonderful project should check out Michael Govan’s conversation with Peter Zumthor at LACMA’s tumblr. You’ll realize how much you’ve made yourselves into total idiots.

  • John Riordan

    Can’t wait to order those MASSIVE panes of curved glass. I know they can do that in here in Suisse, but the biggest piece of glass I could get in the states was 120×240. America needs a new kiln! 240×400! It will change the architecture on the west coast.

  • cs

    I must admit that at first I was not attracted to this design. Now upon studying more closely, I sense the Modernism link that is such an unique and now historic element of So Cal design/charm. This design is a winner! Hope it prevails.

  • RQH

    I’m sure the detailing will be gorgeous and I’ll end up appreciating it.

    However, I think the parti is 1 part cheesy (a tar pit!) and 1 part a rip-off of SANAA’s museum in Kanazawa. And also, in the model I saw I think it recontextualizes Chris Burden’s Urban Light in a very negative way.

    But I’m still keeping an open mind. I hope it’s good. I’m a museum lover and I could not be more sick of Renzo Piano’s buildings.