Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)

  • Los Angeles, USA
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Precipitating history


The LACMA is an awkward composition of buildings accumulated over forty years. This development breathes administrative slowness and the fatality of decisions where architecture, poetry, the magic of a place and the pleasure of being there are not criteria. This juxtaposition now becomes a redevelopment. Errors of the past are troubling and architecture becomes the transcendental hope of a heritage. The May retained its scent of the thirties with a new building dedicated to the latest art. The great temptation is to build a heroic milestone which makes you forget the neighboring buildings’ weaknesses. But that attitude would be to use the neighbors’ weaknesses as an assertion.


No, the architectural and urban history of LACMA should be made into something positive. Each era should be desirable, the existing foundations upgraded. To love things as they are, to give a little tenderness to slightly unfashionable attitudes – this doesn’t advocate leaving things as they are. It implies a fine analysis of each building, each extension, each bit of pollution where a diagnostic could be made, creating an environment to invent and provoke something – like chemical reactions, where adding an ingredient would transform, mutate, coagulate, color, precipitate.


Yes to Pereira’s elevations and their sandstone mosaics. Yes to Bruce Goff’s organic uproar. Yes (after all) to the white ceramic undulations of Hardy & Pfeiffer. Yes of course to May’s golden corner and thick canopy. Yes also to the garden and mountainous horizon. Yes, if we can take the ‘stuff’ off it, if we succeed in making people conscious of where we are. Yes to architectural linking and crossing-through, of sedimentation, interference to precipitate LACMA’s history and make today’s intermediary state be forgotten.


That is the lesson of the 20th century : where urban material was accumulated too quickly and too badly on territory which today is part of our lives. We can transform this material, reveal it, cut it, complete it, in the 21st century where the act of transformation is an important cultural act. The evolution of cathedrals, palaces, and urban squares is always made over centuries.


LACMA’s history will be weaved through transformations which will reveal its different eras, its complexity and abundance.



Jean Nouvel