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Academy picks Renzo Piano, L.A.'s Zoltan Pali for movie museum

May 30, 2012|By Christopher Hawthorne | Architecture Critic
  • Renzo Piano and Zoltan Peli will redesign the old May Company building into the Academy of Motion Pictures and Arts and Sciences' movie museum.
Renzo Piano and Zoltan Peli will redesign the old May Company building into… (Los Angeles Times )

Last year, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced it was abandoning a pricey plan to build a movie museum in central Hollywood designed by French architect Christian de Portzamparc. Instead the academy struck a deal with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art to lease the old May Co. building, known as LACMA West, at Wilshire Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue.

It turns out the academy isn't just using LACMA's building; it's also going to use LACMA's architects. Renzo Piano and L.A architect Zoltan Pali, the academy announced Wednesday, will team up to turn the 1939 May Co. structure, one of L.A.'s classic Art Deco landmarks, into a museum celebrating the history of the film industry.

Back when LACMA was planning to renovate the building for its own use, it tapped Pali and his firm, Studio Pali Fekete Architects, to oversee the redesign. And Piano, of course, has in recent years remade the western half of the LACMA campus, producing a master plan and a pair of new gallery buildings, the Broad Contemporary Art Museum and the Resnick Pavilion.

It's unclear at this point exactly how Piano and Pali will divide work on the museum design. What does seem obvious is that the academy is going for continuity rather than design innovation. These two architects have closely studied the LACMA campus, and the May Co. building in particular, over the last several years. And Pali's firm has a growing preservation track record; it is the architect of the new Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, which will combine a restored post office in Beverly Hills with a new building and is expected to open next year.

If Wednesday's announcement makes practical sense, in other words, it is unlikely to generate much excitement from an architectural point of view -- especially since BCAM is among the most disappointing designs of Piano's remarkable career.

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