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Dropping the `glass box' for a gazebo

LACMA head cites L.A.'s fine weather in changing the design of a new entrance pavilion.

March 09, 2007|Mike Boehm | Times Staff Writer

Visitors to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art will get an alfresco welcome when its new entrance pavilion opens next winter, instead of the glassed-in greeting initially envisioned two years ago by architect Renzo Piano.

The switch comes at the behest of museum director Michael Govan who, after being hired away from New York's Dia Art Foundation a year ago, decided that a glass pavilion would be a waste of good Southern California weather. The BP Grand Entrance, named Tuesday in honor of a $25-million gift from the oil company, will have a roof for rare rainy days and solar panels to exploit the many sunny ones. Otherwise, it will be an open-air structure, a sort of mega-gazebo on the museum's doorstep, supported by steel beams painted a bright red-orange.

"I come from New York, and it would kill me to go into a glass box" instead of enjoying the weather while milling outside the museum, Govan quipped in an interview after announcing the BP donation from a podium set up in front of the entrance's steel skeleton.

Along with the Broad Contemporary Art Museum, under construction just west of the new entrance and also expected to open next February, the BP Grand Entrance is a signature feature of Phase One of the museum's incremental renovation and expansion. Two additional phases are projected, but only after enough money is raised for each part; fundraising is now complete for the first phase at $191 million, which will cover construction and a boost to LACMA's endowment.

Other new features of the first phase are a park behind the Broad building, dotted with large sculptures, and an underground parking garage. Construction expenses, including architects' fees and other "soft costs," are projected at $156 million, LACMA officials said.

Omitting glass walls and doors saved $2.5 million, but Govan said the change to the entrance is "not about savings, it's about efficiency and meaning." The signal he hopes visitors will get by being outside on arrival is that the museum is an outdoor experience as well as an indoor pursuit, "a kind of town square for Los Angeles" -- with the park and its sculptures to be enjoyed along with the works inside the seven exhibition buildings strung along Wilshire Boulevard.

Make that eight, if Govan has his way with another new element: an additional museum building that would be planted over the parking garage during the LACMA makeover's second phase. He wants more space to show off the collection, which ranges from ancient to contemporary art, and to give the museum more flexibility for hosting traveling exhibitions.

Govan said that architect Piano has made preliminary schematic drawings for the building, and that its planning is being funded with part of the $25 million that LACMA backers Lynda and Stewart Resnick initially gave for the first phase, but decided to apply to Phase Two after BP stepped forward with its gift. Phase Two also includes renovations to the former May Co. department store building known as LACMA West.

Govan said the new Phase Two museum of his dreams would be comparable to Dia: Beacon, the skylit former factory on the Hudson River in Beacon, N.Y., whose renovation he had overseen. The hallmarks, he said, would include lots of natural light, flexibility and a spacious "generosity of feeling ... elegant and functional."

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