Never Built LACMA

LACMA design by Barkow Leibinger, Berlin, with Lillian Montalvo Landscape Design
The world's most passive-aggressive architectural competition has just announced six finalists. The Citizens' Brigade to Save LACMA, a group opposing the Peter Zumthor project, has belatedly given the museum the open architectural competition it never had. That's belatedly as in "one Pritzker Prize-winning architect has already spent 12 years/one-fourth of his career on the project." The chance LACMA will ditch Zumthor is zilch. But the entries include A-list architects and provocative ideas. It's just that it's too late to do anything about it.

All the entries have substantially more space than the Zumthor design, and none crosses Wilshire. No mystery there—they ignore Michael Govan's dictum that a 21st-century museum should be on one level. You can see the full entry materials at the Brigade's saveLACMA website and vote for your favorite design.

The first thing to say is that it's tough to compare the competition designs to Zumthor's—for one thing because we may know less about Zumthor's. Most of the competition entries have floorplans more detailed than anything released by Zumthor or LACMA so far. (It's said that will be coming in a few weeks.)
LACMA design by Saffet Kaya Design, London
Three of the finalist designs (by Reiser + Unemoto, Barkow Leibinger, Saffet Kaya) would save parts of the 1965 William Pereira buildings (already under demolition). Notably, all get rid of the unloved 1986 Hardy Holzmann Pfeiffer addition (the "Monty Python foot" in Robert Hughes' put-down). Yet each of the three re-use plans imposes its own "foot," a new structure that pretty much annihilates Pereira's original vision.
LACMA design by Saffet Kaya Design, London
The most interesting of this group is Kaya Design's, which features a biomorphic space recalling the Guggenheim Museum or a toilet.

It's been claimed that adapting the Pereira buildings would save money. But the Pereira buildings were leaking and in need of a seismic upgrade. A LACMA study estimated the needed repairs would cost about $300 million, as much as a (low-end) new building. Keeping the Pereira structures wouldn't be a bargain.

Three designs, by Paul Murdoch Architects, Coop Himmelb(l)au, and TheeAe, start out with a clean slate. I find these by far the more compelling concepts. 
LACMA design by Coop Himmelb(l)au, Vienna and Los Angeles
Coop Himmelb(l)au's has levitated masses and a cantilevered staircase in a crystal sphere. It's an appealingly daft idea but I'd say, one glass sphere per Miracle Mile is enough. 
LACMA design by TheeAe, Hong Kong
TheeAe, Hong Kong, proposes a theatrical interior and an a facade that shimmers as you drive by, maybe like a Jesús Raphael Soto.
LACMA design by TheeAe, Hong Kong
LACMA design by Paul Murdoch Architects, Los Angeles
I've a certain fondness for Paul Murdoch Architects' design for the way it addresses (parodies? stans?) Gin Wong's 5900 Wilshire, the skyscraper across the street. From the west, the slab-like Murdoch structure looks like Wong's, toppled like a domino. Wong worked for Pereira & Associates when he designed 5900 Wilshire. His skyscraper now photobombs renderings of the Zumthor building.
Peter Zumthor design for LACMA. Atlier Peter Zumthor and Partners

Below, never-built meets never-donated. TheeAe's quixotic floorplan features six floors of art, allotting space for the "Hammer Collection" and "Gilbert Silver"(!)
LACMA design by TheeAe, Hong Kong


Anonymous said…
A lot of these are atrocious. Zumthor would still be the clear winner.
Anonymous said…
Finally!!! The curtain has closed, or somebody got the hook, on the performing clown duet “Giovannini & Goldin.” Little pissy pants Joseph and his ventriloquist dummy Greggy were able to perform their, entirely laughable (yet not at all funny), revenge play on their big bad beast with forked tongue Mikey. And the show only cost a bunch of other people’s money!

Wait a sec. Overinflated egos. Disingenuous behavior. Using tons of money irresponsibly that doesn’t belong to them on a cockamamie scheme that will never be executed. This is a Michael Govan project!!!
Anonymous said…
The Save-LACMA design competition is an outright sham. The designs are not “original,” but a lesser version of designs these architects submitted for other competitions, other places (e.g., Osaka, Bund, Paris, Budapest, Beijing, and Taiwan). So much for expressing LA and its sense of place and openness.

The competition does not even address the grievances the Save-LACMA mob has with the Zumthor plan. I thought the Save-LACMA mob wanted a building with a circulation pattern that allowed the curators to present the “continuous” and "linear" history of art. Then why does the competition jury let most of the designs get away with circulation patterns that are idiosyncratic and discontinuous?

The Save-LACMA mob also complained that the Zumthor building did not have dedicated spaces for each collection. Well then, why did the competition jury overlook the fact that the Murdoch proposal has an even more open floor plan than the Zumthor building, with only 6 rooms by my count, all of them mostly identical in shape?

Finally, why is the Save-LACMA mob no longer concerned about the cost of construction? How much do they think Coop Himmelb(l)au's deep cantilevers and glass "flower" are going to cost? The dome at the Academy Museum was a simpler concept than CH’s “flowering” glass atrium and it still cost a lot. Which leads me to ask, Are Giovannini, Goldin and the Save-LACMA mob so hypocritical and cynical as to pass off any design by CH as “efficient." The Performing HS on Grand Avenue by CH was supposed to cost $87 million. It ended up costing $172 million.

Yeah, let's do that again. A sham of a proposal for a sham of a competition. How “efficient” indeed!
Anonymous said…
I am glad they actually the save LACMA folks this competition and they got some serious architects to participate. We can add these designs to the demolished plans, to Renzo's master plan, to Koolhaas, etc. Has a museum being more re-envision than LACMA? As the first comment stated, these plans actually start to make Zumthor's ideas more attractive. Covid-19 has made me reflect on our waste as a civilization. Our excess has brought about our own destruction. Seems the moment we are in calls for less, for equality among cultures, for simplicity. Not for more space to sprint through marathons of works, but for fewer curated selections to reflect and wonder.
Anonymous said…
At least those plans aren't as idiotic and irresponsible as the Govan-Zumthor debacle is. They'd perhaps get LACMA's already thin base of benefactors, such as the Ahmanson Foundation, to reconsider coming back into the fold.

But the combination of Covid-19 and the likely ongoing reduction of LA's economy - which dates back to even before Wuhan came into the picture (LA not exactly a mecca for Fortune 500 companies) - and the symbolic and technical destruction of LACMA will snuff out whatever momentum the museum managed to eke out over the past 15-20 years.

All due to the ego and arrogance of a Hollywood-airhead-type philistine.
Anonymous said…
^^^ Think again...

*The Murdoch proposal works in theory only because it takes liberties with the park that the Zumthor building could not. It is likely that LACMA can't build in the back section of the park for ecological or geological reasons. What then? This design has no room to adjust.

*The Coop Himmelb(l)au proposal comes from the same architect who saw nothing wrong with building a public HS for $172 million. The costs increased in part because so much was spent on elements that have no utility (e.g., the ramp to nowhere).

* The TheeAe proposal is not so much "destination" building as it is a death-defying and water-damaged building. What insurance company would underwrite the daily use of this building?

* The Berklow-Leibinger proposal reminds me of a prison yard. How did it even make the final cut? Where the other entries even worse?

* The RUR proposal is an incongruous assemblage. Instead of rationalizing and consolidating what is there, it adds to the complexity with its concept for "pod" galleries. Why "pod" galleries? Who cares?

* The SKA design is the most absurd. Same veil-vault concept as the Broad Museum, except here the veil is lifted one-storey to expose the curved, organic forms of the lobby. It's basically the Broad with its private parts showing.

... When I learned that Prix of Coop Himmelb(l)au had submitted a proposal, I just knew this competition was going to manifest a lot of stupid, irresponsible, and crazy. The last time Prix got into a pissing contest with a Pritzker-Prize winning architect, he came out looking foolish. This time, however, "pissy-pants" Joe and his Goldin "dummy" provide Prix with cover and end up looking even more foolish.

One might think the Goldin "dummy" would know better. In 2009, he wrote an article on the debacle that is the Performing HS on Grand. See this: ... What a clown show!

Anonymous said…
> Think again...

The details of the way that LACMA is being re-built or not, and how it's rebuilt or not, are far less crucial than the matter of the dishonesty, incompetency and foolishness of Michael Govan. Nothing else is as important as that.

If the museum at least already had a stellar collection and a huge amount of money in its operating and acquisitions fund, that would be one thing. If it weren't already one of the most indebted museums in the country, that would be another thing. If it were a privately owned, privately funded and privately managed institution - and didn't depend on tax monies - that would be a third thing.

Having Govan at the helm of an institution that has taken decades to form, with the support of hundreds or thousands of people since 1965 (such as Anna Bing Arnold, the Ahmansons, Camilla Frost, the Carters, etc), is like getting a heavy dose of SARS-CoV-2 while browsing a store or working at the office.
Anonymous said…
What is crucial here is the dishonesty, incompetence, and foolishness of "pissy-pants" Joe, his Goldin "dummy," and the Save-LACMA mob.

The design competition is a sham.

Anonymous said…
If the support of all those patrons did not result in a "stellar collection," "huge" endowment, or "acquisition fund," why is it such a bad thing for Govan to start over?

... In fact, I can’t think of a founding patron of a museum who is less worthy of our respect than Howard F. Ahmanson.

Ahmanson vetoed the first choice to design the LACMA campus (van der Rohe). The Pereira buildings are a testament to his conservatism and bad taste. Ahmanson's meddling also led to the departure of Ric Brown, the founding director. He left to become director of the Kimbell Art Museum. Under Brown's direction, the Kimbell (not LACMA) ended up with a “legacy” building by Louis Kahn and a better European Art Collection. Ahmanson’s meddling and ego also sidelined Norton Simon who eventually withdrew his remarkable collection from LACMA.

When Ahmanson died, he didn’t leave LACMA an art collection equivalent to Norton Simon’s. He left LACMA a second-tier Rembrandt. Even with the posthumous donations from his family foundation, LACMA still can’t come close to matching the European collection of the Norton Simon Museum.

But the worst thing of all is that Ahmanson did NOT leave most of his money to LACMA. He gave it to his crazy son, who would use the money to fund the passage of Prop 8 and other loony right causes. As if having his name on a Pereira building wasn’t bad enough for his legacy.

(You can read about the crazy son here:

It's poetic justice that David Geffen will replace Howard Ahmanson’s name on the main building at LACMA. The Ahmanson name should NOT be associated with great art or a cultural institution in Los Angeles.
Anonymous said…
Pereira’s designs are typical corporate architecture, but a lot of his buildings are good spaces and they’ve aged well, at least from a nostalgic sense. Unfortunately his building at LACMA is not one of them. It only works in context with his original buildings. As a standalone, designed to hover over a pool that’s now a grass lawn, it’s completely out of place, made worse with that bad height-of-the-80s postmodern monolithic wall that melds everything into the mess we have now. And that addition is not even my least favorite. That would be the high-school campus-inspired Broad additions, designed by an otherwise great architect giving us his worse design that I often wonder whether it was driven by a passive-aggressive disdain for the city.

Zumthor’s downgrades are infuriating. Like being sold on a really expensive car with all the bells and whistles but then realizing in the end, the exorbitant price is only for the lower class base model. The design succeeded with those cathedral ceilings. It was the most prominant feature of those public renderings, now inexplicably gone.
Anonymous said…
^^^Piano does not disdain LA. He disdains Eli Broad. He discussed the matter here:

Anonymous said…
^^^Zumthor did not downgrade the design. That's not how he works. On first principles, he never compromises.

Accordingly, he must have decided that there was something extrinsic about the chapel galleries. Indeed, the chapel galleries broke up the overall sense of extension, the sense that the building is branching and growing like a tree in all directions.

The chapel galleries also diminished the “atmosphere" inside the building. In the renderings, you could see that Zumthor was struggling with how cliche and artificial the skylight can be because the desired result is always the so-called "wall-wash.” The solution he tried was to bring the light through clerestory windows, but that iteration looked familiar too, the precedence in LA being Moneo's LA Cathedral.

Returning to first principles then, the next iteration of the design takes us back more or less to the original flat roof and a renewed emphasis on the sidelight from the glass perimeter.

In museum design, sidelight is not so commonplace and unnatural. Traditionally, sidelight requires a lot of room, a long gallery bordered on one side by a courtyard open to the sky.

However, by turning the building inside-out, Zumthor makes room for a cloister gallery that encircles the building and takes up all the interstitial spaces as well. With all the sun in LA, this obviously posed a “glaring" problem. But the remarkable move here was to twist the form of the building to modulate the light and even to take advantage of the shadow from the large tower by spanning the street. In that sense, the building models a tree even in the way that it reacts to the light.

To be clear, the building is not a metaphor for a tree. The building is architecture and architecture according to Zumthor is a manifestation of matter, its force and memory (experiential effects). In this case, the material forces are rooting, lifting, branching, twisting, and inflecting/reflecting light and air.

That is the “architectural" beauty of a tree, what Zumthor I think would call its “presence". That sense of beauty also hearkens back to the primitive sense of a Greek Temple, which is why I think the Zumthor building will complement Burden’s Urban Light sculpture. Urban Light has been described as both a Greek temple and a forest of lamps.

The Zumthor building for LACMA will have a profound architectural legacy.

— J. Garcin
Anonymous said…
No architect would ever admit to compromising. Every architect does it when suddenly constrained on budget that threaten to scrap the project, even if they can rationalize it. This is his first American project and he has to deal with a whole new set of constraints specific to the US that he didn’t have to deal with in Europe. You have skyrocketing construction costs from $650 to now $750, it’s very hard to believe the final evolution of the design just happened to coincide with a lower cost. LACMA is short on budget but going ahead with construction. There has to be compromises, no matter if it was carefully considered, to make up increase in construction costs. It’s euphemism not to call it a downgrade if Zumthor is now dealing with $100M less in his budget than he initially anticipated.
Anonymous said…
Correction: 100M is for “additional costs” according to LACMA. Although I’m sceptical if that wasn’t already included in the original $650M number already.
Anonymous said…
> Zumthor did not downgrade the design.
> That's not how he works. On first
> principles, he never compromises.

You might just as well claim that LACMA is the most well-funded institution in the country and that both its budget and endowment fund are the envy of museums like the National Gallery, Louvre, the Met, the Chicago Institute of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, etc.

You might also just as well say that the local economy has put Silicon Valley to shame for the past 10-15 years and that New York City's corporate honchos ain't got nothing on the generosity of philanthropists based in Los Angeles.

I will end by saying good thing there is at least things or people like the Getty, the Hungtington and George Lucas---who did originally prefer San Francisco and Chicago.

As for Michael Govan? Get him the hell outta here. Please.
Anonymous said…
Anonymous said…
^^^ Pissy-pants Joe is a sham.

His primary intellectual background is not architecture, but literature and language (BA English and MA French). On his website, he makes it seems as if his MA is from the Sorbonne, but it's actually from MIddlebury College. (Middlebury sponsors a year of study at the Sorbonne.)

He does have a design degree, but he did not have much of an architectural career. He is an architectural critic by default and not a very good one at that, judging from the stuff he writes.

You can judge his design acumen for yourself. Here is the link to his moribund design firm:

What a clown show!!!

Anonymous said…
>No architect would ever admit to compromising.

Are you speculating? If Zumthor toyed with the chapel galleries and thought they were expendable, the effect on the budget would have been the same as if he wanted them and they were eliminated because of escalating costs. Hence, on the basis of the budget alone, we can't infer much.

In any case, the crucial consideration here is not the budget, but the concept. Did he compromise the concept? Just because you fell in love with the chapel galleries does not mean that Zumthor felt the same way. Given his position on taking shortcuts, I doubt he would have eliminated the chapel galleries if he thought they were essential to the concept.

Here is Zumthor on the subject of how he works with concepts and with clients:
Anonymous said…
> He does have a design degree, but he did
> not have much of an architectural career.

Who the hell cares? His recent article that focuses on the economic aspects of LACMA indicates what? That's he's not an expert on budgets and accounting?

Your blathering about Zumthor and cutbacks to his motel-overpass debacle not having to do with money indicates that the fundamentals of money go way over your head too.

The way you've been arguing in favor of Govan and Zumthor, and against things like the Ahmanson Foundation, etc, indicates just how lousy are the current caretakers of LACMA. The museum just might as well be run by the bio-engineering lab in Wuhan, China.
Anonymous said…
FORM OVER FUNCTION??? What's the matter with all the people arguing about design here when the very core of this institution is being so critically compromised. There's time for that. The first criteria should be to fulfill the purpose of this encyclopedic museum to house its collection now and in the future, and to make it functional for visitors and its curators. A reduced in size, one story building-spread with no ability to expand in the future flies in the face of these essentials. This is a pretty basic concept.
Jack Rutberg
Jack Rutberg Fine Arts, Los Angeles
Anonymous said…
Anonymous said…
"Six international architectural teams made the winning cut for a renegade architectural competition to reimagine the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.... Arts writer William Poundstone gives the “the world’s most passive-aggressive architectural competition” an astute parsing."
juanito said…
A motel/Rest Stop overpass? No way, folks. If the organization goes belly up, the county can always sell the building - to Beverly Hills, for a psychiatric institute. Lesser case: just call it the David Geffen Memorial Rest Stop, courtesy of Mrs. Dobbie Gillis and cohorts.
Anonymous said…
> courtesy of Mrs. Dobbie Gillis

LOL. Speaking of Sheila Kuehl and the other air-headed, philistine Hollywood celebrities (past and former) who've been kissing Michael Govan's butt over the debacle he's foisting upon the city and county of Los Angeles.
Anonymous said…
@Jack Rutberg

Educate yourself:

Anonymous said…
This is the LACMA that was "Never Built”:

Design #1: LACMA's founding patrons chose Mies van der Rohe to design the LACMA campus. As the lead donor, Howard F. Ahmanson had the power to veto the choice. He was no fan of modernism and the rest is history.

Van der Rohe went on to design another museum, the New National Gallery in Berlin. It’s pure form has been compared to a Greek temple.
See this:

If you look closely, you will see the seeds of Zumthor’s concept of architecture as the manifestation of matter (force and memory).

(Perhaps, this link might help:

Design #2: Howard Ahmanson’s meddling also led to the departure of the founding Director, Ric Brown. Brown left LACMA to become Director of the Kimbell Art Foundation. One of his first decisions there was to select an architect for a new museum building. He chose Louis Kahn.

See this:

It was a brilliant choice. But you can surmise how the design was controversial.
To some (the ancestors of the Save-LACMA mob), it looked like a group of grain silos.

But who cares about those people now? The building has become an architectural icon.

If you look closely, you will see the seeds of Zumthor’s concept of “atmosphere.” Kahn did not figure it all out.

--- J. Garcin
Anonymous said…
Anonymous said…
Anonymous said…
Hmm. Some of the comments here are unusually puerile. I won't be participating in that, but I would like to say I am firmly in the Christopher Knight camp.
Anonymous said…
"For work demonstrating extraordinary community service by a critic, applying his expertise and enterprise to critique a proposed overhaul of the L.A. County Museum of Art and its effect on the institution’s mission."
Anonymous said…
> applying his expertise and enterprise
> to critique a proposed overhaul of
> the L.A. County Museum of Art and its
> effect on the institution’s mission.

As what Knight has pointed out among his various articles, the pros and cons of Peter Zumthor's design are really the least of the major flaws in what LACMA's director and its board are doing to the museum. The debacle of Govan-Zumthor is the least of the both irresponsible and reckless decision-making that unethical Michael Govan is foisting upon the public of Los Angeles.

Moreover, to be doing what they're doing set against the backdrop of today's gasping, wheezing economy and sequestered, hermit-like citizens is the height of arrogance and lack of integrity.

Govan is doing to LA's cultural stability what SARS-CoV-2 is doing to people's health, happiness and well-being.
Anonymous said…
In that Knight has been awarded a Pulitzer, Giovaninni deserves something on the order of a Nobel. Surely he has been no stranger to Los Angeles, but as an outsider, his insights regards the controversy are an amazement. He will be remembered.
Anonymous said…

Oh he will a be remembered “amazement” alright. As a charlatan just as bad Govan, maybe even worse as he tried to maintain a thin veil of journalistic integrity while working some sort of really dumb and passive aggressive dirty ops campaign against Govan. Except jerky Joeseph lobbed bomb was a dud...until he picked it up and it blew up in his face!

Are Nobels really just handed out to a goomba like Giovannini and a goofball like Goldin. That Save LACMA mob made up of those should get a prize. A booby prize for two boobs.

Those philistines wrapped in ersatz intellectual elitism are like the COVID-19 of lopsided PoMo revisionist thinking. Bad for the planet.

This New Yorker will get a daily chuckle when I remember that Knight will ALWAYS be a Pulitzer winner and gigolo Joe will always be just a (self appointed) nominee.
Anonymous said…
Damn. If there were any doubt as to just how bad Michael Govan, Peter Zumthor and their band of oddball sycophants are in the way they think, opine, react, theorize and conclude, you've helped dispel them.

Anonymous said…
Not a LA resident, but have enjoyed visiting LACMA many times. Ultimately what I enjoyed was the art not the building. Must confess I like the buildings/settings and art at the N Simon and Getty.

Fundamental problem seems to be that if LACMA is successful about adding art, it will rapidly outgrow the ability to build to house it. If it were possible, then the museum would soon need the space of one of the local shopping malls. And it gets worse, if we continue to collect contemporary art and see that it is coming in from all over the world- the amount that needs to be collected becomes vast. Just not possible. And what people want to see shifts

So I think museums have to rethink what they are. I also am coming to believe Museums are best not owned by the public. You see in this discussion the problem of too many chefs trying to cook the meal.

Not a fan of the Zumthor but the world will not collapse if it is built. If new leadership comes in and wants to go back to the old collections idea they can just partition up the building and put in storage the least popular art. Biggest worry is the bridge over the street-- looks like an invitation to disaster- maybe if built that's where they can put the offices of the director--
juanito said…
Hmmm... some of the comments hereat makes one wonder if Donald Duck Trump has been weighing in on the subject.
Anonymous said…
LACMA deserves better architecture than the Zumthor/Govan proposal or any of those submitted as part of Save LACMA's competition. They are all dreadful. I find the Zumthor plan to be very uninspired. The one feature that some people think is refined and inspired ( crossing Wilshire Blvd on stilts) is merely the result of Michael Govan's ideological purity test of the museum only being on one level. There is nothing inspired about Zumthor's design, the only way to keep everything on one level was to cross Wilshire Blvd. Any architectural plan that decreases the amount of gallery space ( let alone not having any space for offices, storage, etc) for a growing museum is by default a failed plan. This is my main criticism of the Zumthor/Govan proposal. While I find the overall design to be banal, the major draw back is that it will be SMALLER than the current buildings that are being demolished. For a city of the size and international stature of Los Angeles, the county museum deserves something functional, beautiful, and profound. The current Zumthor/Govan plan is none of these things.
Anonymous said…
> Biggest worry is the bridge over the street--
> looks like an invitation to disaster- maybe
> if built that's where they can put the offices
> of the director--

In the middle of the nearby tar pits would be a better idea. On second thought, Govan will stink up the pits to an EPA-red-alarm level.

Better idea is he just move out of LA, period. Scram, dude.
Anonymous said…
> the major draw back is that it will be SMALLER

Along with major portions of it being rooms with entire walls of floor-to-ceiling windows, inflexible concrete walls, reduced or no space for curators, auditoriums, conservation labs and other crucial back-of-the-museum non-public features. All for the dementedly high price tag of gazillion dollars.

Michael Govan: And other than that, Mrs Lincoln, how was the play?
Anonymous said…
Anonymous said…
Anonymous said…
Anonymous said…
The Murdoch design is a copy or rehash of this design for a Student Union Building at CSUSB.

The student union is the better of the two designs because of how it handles the cantilever. The student union is under construction.

... Who judged this competition? Why didn't they know this? They look like fools for proposing that LACMA look like a student union building. What rubes!
Anonymous said…
Anonymous said…
Any floorplans update?