for the past few years, the spotlight has shone on peter zumthor following his various design iterations for the los angeles county museum of art’s new building. the project — which will join the renzo piano-designed resnick pavilion — is the swiss architect’s biggest to date, with an estimated construction cost of over $650 million USD. zumthor’s most recent design for LACMA, approved as of april 10, 2019, takes the museum over wilshire boulevard, the highly transited street, with a bold, sweeping building that traverses the cityscape.
the most recent iteration of LACMA’s new building
image © atelier peter zumthor & partner / the boundary (also main image)
for the first time, zumthor talked about his project when he sat down with journalist sabine von fischer for the NZZ newspaper. perpetually interested in the complex relationship between a building, its environment, and humans, zumthor broke out from the museum’s contained campus extending it over the boulevard. he describes his first iteration of his LACMA extension, known as ‘the black flower’, as engaging ‘in a dialogue with the history of the place. however, our neighbor, the museum of natural history, who oversees the tar pits on the site, asked us to step back. we wanted to respect that wish. so we crossed the squares of the urban grid.
‘that was a moment of liberation, the departure from the axis meant the breakthrough for us. it is an encyclopaedic museum, with halls filled with 135,000 objects that came together by accident: furniture, clothes, stone sculptures. one could say: it is completely disparate, what is gathered here. I call it a sanctuary for expatriated objects. we will focus on the things that belong together and then consciously set transitions.’
the updated design adopts a lower profile
image © atelier peter zumthor & partner / the boundary
when asked how architecture changes (or not) depending on its scale, the architect answers: ‘my attitude [towards architecture of different scales] is always the same, the topics do not change. but the places are always new, that fascinates me. I love to explore and understand places so that my buildings can respond to them in a special way… it’s important for me to develop buildings out of the context. that’s why their shape is always different. nevertheless, so I am told, [my] buildings always have their own atmosphere that you can feel immediately.‘
‘the free form allowed me to respond to all neighbors in a friendly manner, but that was not the step beyond the terrain. the ‘black flower’ — that’s what we called the building’s figure — marks the beginning of this process, inside the park’s enclosures. only when we ventured out over wilshire boulevard did the building acquire the character of a large public building.‘
a previous version of the scheme — the ‘black flower’ — employed a different color palette
image © atelier peter zumthor & partner
zumthor’s buildings are known to have an incomparable attention to detail. as one of his largest buildings, the architect expands on maintaining the same quality from his studio’s base in haldenstein, switzerland. ‘we haldensteiner architects work with a large team of mostly american engineers and specialists on this project. we are in the process of establishing a collegial cooperation, also with the general contractor and his subcontractors. our american partner architects are SOM, a traditional company in the united states with a great deal of experience. SOM is known for good quality. the most important thing is that it was always michael govan’s wish that I could guide and supervise everything. haldenstein is in charge.‘
‘every decision is made by haldenstein, because it is clear to all those involved that this is the only way to achieve the highest quality,’ zumthor continues. ‘I know that the american construction industry usually works differently, and the contractors and architects are so far apart in the building process that they usually never get to know each other. for us, however, the following applies: I not only participate in the execution plans of SOM. I also look at all the workshop drawings of the executing craftsmen and I have already met such. there are also professionals in los angeles who understand their craft.’
a scale model of the previous design for the site
image © atelier peter zumthor & partner
compared to the more monolithic construction methods zumthor has used in his european buildings, in LA he is attempting to respect the more traditional american construction of additive methods and layers. yet, he sees no difficulties in completing the main exhibition hall out of a single concrete cast. ‘we foresee to complete the building in 2023, the year of my 80th birthday. a year after we could open it.’ when asked about the recent county council vote in april 2019, which approved the project despite its steep price, he trusts LACMA director michael govan: ‘you do the project and I do the rest,’ govan assured him. see designboom’s previous coverage of the project here.
cristina gomez I designboom
jul 06, 2019