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Rendering of Barkow Leibinger’s LACMA design, which incorporates the museum’s existing buildings. Photo: Barkow Leibinger.
Rendering of Barkow Leibinger’s LACMA design, which incorporates the museum’s existing buildings. Photo: Barkow Leibinger.

Activists Select Winners of Guerilla Competition for New LACMA Design

In protest of the $750 million redesign of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), which was approved in 2019 and is currently underway, an ad hoc group of activists held an unsanctioned design competition in order to “reset the museum’s architectural path and keep LACMA intact and thriving as an encyclopedic museum.”

Organized by the Citizens’ Brigade to Save LACMA, which is not affiliated with the institution, the “corrective” competition invited international architecture firms to reenvision Swiss architect Peter Zumthor’s current plan, which involves demolishing four existing buildings—the Ahmanson, Hammer, and Arts of the Americas buildings, as well as the Bing Center—to make room for one large structure that will straddle Wilshire Boulevard.

“After carefully analyzing publicly available documents about the new building . . . we regretfully concluded the design is inadequate and dysfunctional: it provides too little gallery space, consumes too much land, and costs an extravagant price per square foot,” reads the “LACMA Not LackMA” competition’s website. “It strips the museum of essential services such as curatorial offices and the library. The design fails the collections, which will be stored or dispersed to other locations.”

Launched on March 23 and backed by an anonymous donor, the competition gave participants one month to work on proposals. While LACMA has already begun razing four of its current structures, architecture critic Greg Goldin, who serves as cochair of the Citizens’ Brigade, told the Los Angeles Times that the competition was launched to “give the public an opportunity to see these [designs] and create some enthusiasm around an alternative. We feel damn strongly that this should have been the process to begin with.”

A seven-member jury—which included Aaron Betsky, director of the Virginia Tech School of Architecture and Design; Patrice Marandel, former chief curator of European art at LACMA; and Winka Dubbeldam, head of the New York–based practice Archi-Tectonics—chose six finalists, who came up with innovative design solutions that increase the current square footage for exhibitions and allegedly cost less than Zumthor’s design, out of a pool of twenty-eight submissions. The studios will each receive a $1,500 prize.

The shortlisted architects are Barkow Leibinger, Berlin; Coop Himmelb(l)au, Vienna; Kaya Design, London; Paul Murdoch Architects, Los Angeles; Reiser + Umemoto, New York; and TheeAe (The Evolved Architectural Eclectic), Hong Kong. The public will be able to vote on their favorite designs on until May 15.  

Rendering of Paul Murdoch Architects’ LACMA design. Photo: Paul Murdoch Architects.