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LACMA targets architect

Officials confirm 'serious discussions' with Renzo Piano to design contemporary art building.

October 22, 2003|Louise Roug | Times Staff Writer

Ending months of speculation, Eli Broad and officials at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art confirmed Tuesday that Italian architect Renzo Piano is in talks to design the proposed contemporary art building at LACMA bankrolled by the billionaire philanthropist.

Piano came to Los Angeles last month to develop ideas for the site, according to Broad. "We're in serious discussions with Renzo, but he has not been formally retained," Broad said. "We want his ideas on how you unify the museum campus, and he's doing some preliminary studies."

While in Europe in June, Broad met with several architects before settling on Piano, whose current projects include the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York, a master plan for the Columbia University campus and the recently completed Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas.

The proposed $50-million museum in Los Angeles, tentatively named the Broad Contemporary Art Museum at LACMA, will house post-1945 art.

"We're going to meet again within the next month and continue our discussions," Broad said. "It's months away from starting any real serious design work."

The building is slated to be built along Wilshire Boulevard, linking the LACMA West building, on the corner of Wilshire and Fairfax, to the rest of the museum complex to the east. Any design for the new 70,000-square-foot building will be subject to the approval of the board.

"It's a difficult architectural campus, so to speak," Broad said. "Renzo to me is a 'weaver architect.' Some architects would plunk down a new building. He'll weave something together so it'll work cohesively."

Piano first came to attention with the Pompidou Center in Paris, completed in 1977 with his then partner, London-based architect Richard Rogers. His work in the U.S. includes Houston's Menil Foundation in 1986 and current plans for a $370-million expansion and renovation of the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco.

Piano won architecture's top honor, the Pritzker Prize, in 1998. "While his work embraces the most current technology of this era, his roots are clearly in the classic Italian philosophy and tradition," wrote the jury, in announcing the award. "Equally at ease with historical antecedents, as well as the latest technology, he is also intensely concerned with issues of habitability and sustainable architecture in a constantly changing world."

In addition to buildings, the Renzo Piano Building Workshop, which has offices in Paris and Genoa, Italy, has also designed subway stations, bridges, a prototype car and cruise ships.

The proposal for the new LACMA building, originally disclosed in June, followed months of talks between Broad and LACMA leaders, including its president and director Andrea Rich, board chairman Walter L. Weisman and chief curator Stephanie Barron.

It also comes on the heels of a failed plan to overhaul the entire LACMA campus and replace it with a new building designed by the Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas. LACMA dropped those plans late last year due to fund-raising problems for the building, estimated to cost between $200 million and $300 million.

In addition to the new contemporary arts building, Broad has pledged $10 million for acquisitions and has offered to lend works from his Broad Art Foundation collection.

Under his agreement with LACMA leaders, Broad will yield curatorial authority to museum staffers but exert a high degree of control over the new building. When the plans were first announced, Broad told The Times that he will be responsible for putting up the building, with control over the choice of builders and responsibility for cost overruns.

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