Throwback Thursday: Back to the Future of L.A. Civic Architecture

In the mid-1960s, the heart of the new civic architecture in Los Angeles was the dual project to construct the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in the mid-Wilshire district and the Music Center in the city’s downtown. The 20-teens stand to witness a similar revival with the joint projects of Peter Zumthor‘s LACMA redevelopment on mid-Wilshire’s Museum Mile and the construction of Diller Scofidio + Renfro‘s downtown Broad Art Museum.


William Pereira’s 1965 LACMA campus and Walton Becket’s 1964 Dorothy Chandler Pavilion at the Music Center

At the time of their construction, William Pereira‘s LACMA, completed in 1965, and Welton Becket‘s Music Center, built from 1964 through 1967, represented the apotheosis of civic architecture as the engine of cultural development in Los Angeles. The simultaneous construction of these two institutions established an axis of elite cultural centers running from the more heavily urbanized mid-Wilshire district to the still-developing Bunker Hill neighborhood of downtown Los Angeles. Urbanization continued along this axis, with the skyscrapers of the downtown LA business district rising around the Music Center. When Frank Gehry completed the Walt Disney Music Hall in 2003 as a home for the Los Angeles Philharmonic across the street from the original Music Center campus, the neighborhood became a must-see destination for architecture tourists — leading to “regalvanized civic efforts to make Grand Avenue the cultural axis of Downtown L.A.,” as the Getty Center‘s current “Overdrive: L.A. Constructs the Future” exhibition points out.

The project to develop Grand Avenue into a cultural center brings new plans to rework the original mid-Wilshire/downtown LA trajectory of cultural institutions. In 2010, L.A. art patron par excellence Eli Broad announced plans to build a museum to house his vast art collection on Grand Avenue. Diller Scofidio + Renfro signed on to design the building in 2011, producing plans for a structure that features a porous, honeycombed exoskeleton which departs from the heavy, undulating planes of Frank Gehry’s Disney Hall across the street. The DS+R building is slated to open in mid-2014 when it will add to downtown L.A.’s ensemble of landmark buildings. Meanwhile, Zumthor’s LACMA redevelopment, currently being presented to the public at the museum’s “Presence of the Past: Peter Zumthor Reconsiders LACMA” exhibition, promises to remake, once again, both the urban and cultural landscapes of Los Angeles.

William Zumthor’s proposed LACMA redesign and Diller Scofidio + Renfro’s Broad Museum

- Anna Kats

Images via the Getty Center, LACMA, and Diller Scofidio + Renfro.