Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)

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Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)
In the competition for a $200-million commission to redesign and unify LACMA’s campus the board of trustees architect selection committee unanimously approved the proposal by Rem Koolhaas. Koolhaas’ radical design concept, nicknamed “Cool House”, was to demolish most of the existing buildings and replace them with a single structure of three levels topped by a tent-like translucent roof. In assessing the possibilities to transform the museum, Koolhaas followed, in his words, the “moral imperative” to create a new, consolidated LACMA rather than attempting to impose order on the existing campus with its eclectic constellation of buildings. The proposal, approved in 2002, has since been scrapped in favour of a proposal by Renzo Piano.

The entire complex was reconceived as a system of horizontal layers, with the exhibition spaces stacked above an open-air plaza. The notions of transparency and uplift, essential to a true understanding of LACMA’s mission, were made manifest in the translucent roof that spans the entire museum floor. The roof's height allowed the museum to create additional floors. The structure and materials proposed by Koolhaas were at the cutting edge of seismic and environmental technology.

Separated from the former Museum of Science, History and Arts in 1965, LACMA is the youngest of the nation’s leading encyclopaedic art museums. Its five buildings in Hancock Park on Wilshire Boulevard between Hollywood and Beverly Hills were built between 1965 and 1988. LACMA West, the historic former May Company department store located a block west of the original buildings, was purchased in 1994. The current complex now covers more than 20 acres, bifurcated by a public street and the museum’s parking structure.

Koolhaas’s proposed new building housed all of LACMA’s collections on one level. A temporary exhibition space, encased in glass, was situated at the plaza's western edge. Behind it, an outdoor cafe faced the park. Overlooking the La Brea Tar Pits, the Bing Theatre was entirely reconceived as an open-air amphitheater, its walls torn out and its seats enveloped in an enormous mechanized curtain.

The collections of each Center for Art unfold chronologically along one axis as an independent unit; if a visitor follows various cross-axes, interconnections between and among these collections emerge, literally and figuratively opening new perspectives. This innovative, non-hierarchical presentation of the museum’s collections was a new paradigm for the encyclopaedic art museum, breaking from the traditional nineteenth-century Beaux-Arts model.

The design leaves untouched only LACMA West (the former May Co. at Wilshire Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue), the parking garage, the Japanese Pavilion and the museum's offices located beneath the existing plaza.

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