Three interdisciplinary design teams on August 26 presented their conceptual approaches to reimagine the historic La Brea Tar Pits site in Los Angeles. The varied concepts are early contributions to improve the entire 12-acre site, which has not been renovated or considered comprehensively since it opened more than forty years ago.
The concepts were prepared by three renowned architectural firms—Dorte Mandrup (Copenhagen), Diller Scofidio + Renfro (New York) and WEISS/MANFREDI (New York). The concepts envision a more integrated experience of the museum, while adding sustainable infrastructure, public green spaces, increasing community access and preserving the site’s iconic features.
“These three concepts offer us distinct approaches to consider. All of them are deeply thoughtful, and all have responded fully to our stated goals,” said Dr. Lori Bettison-Varga, president and director of the Natural History Museums of Los Angeles County (NHMLAC) at the public unveiling event. “We want to preserve and enhance community use of Hancock Park while making the collection more visible to the public, showing science in action, and adding to our visitor amenities.”
Last March, NHMLAC asked an international group of architecture firms to assemble teams of landscape architects, scientists, engineers, designers and artists to begin to reimagine La Brea Tar Pits. The three finalist teams participated in a special “ideas incubator” held in June 2019 during which more than seventy leading figures from the fields of science, the arts, design, entertainment, education, technology, communications, philanthropy, and government gathered for a day of open-ended discussion. These meetings led to the latest concepts that were unveiled.
Dorte Mandrup-Poulsen, founder and creative director of Dorte Mandrup, said Hancock Park and the Page Museum are nostalgic places that bring back memories to local residents.” With this in mind, he said his firm’s design will open up and extend the park and museum to become one big living laboratory.
“Our proposal interweaves the park and museum, so the moment you step inside the park you become immersed into the story of the Tar Pits,” said Poulsen at the event. “A visit here should be a journey of curiosity, where senses and imagination are instantly awakened.”
The Diller Scofidio + Renfro team said a new masterplan for the La Brea Tar Pits and Hancock Park is conceived to be the “connective tissue” between existing and new institutions, public spaces, and urban infrastructure. “We have taken a ‘light touch’ approach for the next evolution of the Page Museum, infilling underutilized spaces and reconfiguring what is already there to create a more dynamic and efficient hybrid structure that is both building and landscape."
Weiss/Manfredi calls its proposal “La Brea Loops and Lenses.” This concept redefines Hancock Park and the Page Museum as one continuous experience, said Founders and Principals Marion Weiss and Michael Manfredi at the event. “The intertwining loops link all the existing site components, enhancing spaces for community and scientific research. The lenses, as framed views throughout the park and museum, reveal the La Brea collection to visitors, bringing the museum to the park, and the park into the public imagination.”
Displays prepared by the three teams will be on public view in the museum at La Brea Tar Pits through September 15, with materials including models, renderings and drawings.
To assist with their concept selection, NHMLAC assembled a jury of leading figures from the fields of architecture, landscape architecture, design, science, natural history and the arts. This panel includes Milton Curry, Dean of USC School of Architecture; Christopher Hawthorne, Chief Design Officer, City of Los Angeles; Kirk Johnson, Director of the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution; Kristin Sakoda, Executive Director, Los Angeles County Department of Arts and Culture; and Barbara Wilks, Founding Principal and Architect, W Architecture and Landscape Architecture, LLC.
NHMLAC says it expects to choose one firm by the end of December 2019. The winning firm will then lead a multi-disciplinary creative team through a public engagement, master planning, design and construction process over the next several years.
The La Brea Tar Pits and 57,000-sq-ft The George C. Page Museum were designed by Los Angeles architects Frank Thornton and Willis Fagan and built in 1977. Recently renamed the "museum at La Brea Tar Pits,” the facility is an active, internationally renowned site of paleontological research on Wilshire Boulevard in the heart of a Los Angeles.
The asphalt seeps at La Brea Tar Pits are the only active urban fossil dig site in the world. Plants and animals from the last 50,000 years are constantly being discovered, excavated and prepared on this site daily. Since research began in 1913, the Tar Pits have yielded millions of prehistoric animals samples, including saber-toothed cats, mammoths, dire wolf and mastodon skeletons, as well as innumerable plants, small rodents, and insects.