LACMA Demolishes

John Hill
16. 4月 2020
One of the LACMA buildings designed by William Pereira in 1965, now demolished (Photo: Gunnar Klack/Wikimedia Commons)

In the midst of the city's COVID-19 quarantine, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) is moving forward with the demolition of four of its buildings to make way for the new building designed by Peter Zumthor.

Demolition began last week, per a statement from LACMA dated April 9, 2020. That same statement indicates just how demolition is able to occur during quarantine, when people must do "non-essential" work from home: "Both the County and City of Los Angeles have declared building construction to be an essential activity, and the County has strongly urged us to continue moving forward in our work in the construction of our new building for the permanent collection."

The four buildings being demolished — and captured in photographs by the Los Angeles Times two days before LACMA's statement — are the Ahmanson, Art of the Americas, Bing, and Hammer buildings. Three of them comprise the original 1965 campus designed by William Pereira, with the fourth added by Hardy Holman Pfeiffer Associates two decades later. 

The eventual demolition of the buildings, which LACMA attests "had significant structural problems," was known for at least seven years. Even so, the demolition crept up suddenly on many locals, including LA Times film critic Kenneth Turan, who wrote on Twitter: "Oh my god, I'd not focused on the fact that LACMA's 600 seat Leo Bing Theater, one of the best of L.A. movie showcases, was about to be demolished. What a shock."

The demolition makes the preservation efforts of Save LACMA, the Citizens' Brigade to Save LACMA, and other groups effectively moot — outside of halting the Zumthor building's construction in favor of some sort of alternative, which is highly unlikely. So these two groups are drawing attention to the timing of the demolition start. Ron Hollman of Save LACMA told KCRW, "Sadly, LACMA is currently hurting the community rather than help heal it, which is not what an arts institution should do. Demolishing the Bing, and the rest of the original campus, at this time has been particularly heartless." 

The Citizens' Brigade calls LACMA director Michael Govan "our very own Nero" and writes on its website, "Rome is burning and Michael Govan doesn’t notice, stepping on the gas to accelerate the demolition of the East Campus and the construction of his out-of-touch, bankrupting folly. He wants to race ahead so that soon it will be too late to stop. Meanwhile he is putting the lives of construction workers at risk in this non-essential project, and putting LACMA at risk with a project that next to nobody wants as the recession fast approaches."

In anticipation of such concerns, the April 9th LACMA statement points out the "enabling activities required in advance of construction were completed before the coronavirus crisis unfolded." It also following government guidelines, enhanced cleaning protocols, PPE, social distancing, hand washing stations, and no indoor meetings.lists the various ways LACMA is dealing with demolition during COVID, such as 

With demolition set to wrap up this summer and construction starting soon after with a targeted 2023 completion, there are still questions about the building designed by Peter Zumthor. In an article at the LA Times, Carolina A. Miranda is curious "where exactly things stand with the building’s design — specifically plans for the interior, which have yet to be shown to the public." Considering that more than $100 million of the estimated $750 million building is coming from LA County, it's not an unreasonable request. But with LACMA appearing to be in control of the process and the public relations since the project's 2013 unveiling, the plans will come — eventually, on their terms and when they see fit.

Aerial rendering (Image: Atelier Peter Zumthor & Partner/The Boundary)