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Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County unveils $135 million transformation
The three new visitor experiences represent the culmination of a decade-long transformation during which NHM has evolved into an active, dynamic center for public engagement and scientific exploration in the next century.

LOS ANGELES, CA.- The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County opened to the public on June 9 as an indoor-outdoor museum, connecting its mission and exhibitions about the planet with the urban fabric of Los Angeles. NHM will welcome visitors from all over the world into its new Nature Gardens—3½ acres of outdoor exhibits, programming and research space; Nature Lab, an indoor interactive complement to Nature Gardens where visitors are invited to take part in citizen science activities and learn more about the wildlife that shares our Southern California environment; and Otis Booth Pavilion, the Museum’s new gleaming glass entrance and gathering place which cuts through the center of the museum campus to feature an iconic 63-foot fin whale specimen. Facing out to Exposition Boulevard and the city’s new light rail Metro Expo Line, these three new visitor experiences represent the culmination of a decade-long transformation during which NHM has evolved into an active, dynamic center for public engagement and scientific exploration in the next century.

“We have invested a decade of imagination and effort and $135 million to remake this institution for its next hundred years,” said Dr. Jane Pisano, NHM President and Director, “To honor our great legacy and keep it vital for audiences today, we began by restoring our magnificent 1913 Beaux Arts building, the first museum facility constructed in Los Angeles, as the jewel in historic Exposition Park. Then we swept through the entire institution, reinventing the way we bring the public together with our scientists and collections. We have created engaging new permanent exhibitions such as Age of Mammals and the Dinosaur Hall, built renovated, light-filled galleries and doubled our combined indoor and outdoor program space, making NHM a museum of both natural history and living nature. Now we’re excited to welcome everyone to a museum experience unlike any they’ve had before.”

The transformation will continue beyond June 9 with the unveiling of two final components in 2013:

• the new, 14,000-square-foot permanent exhibition Becoming Los Angeles (opening July 14), which tells the intertwined stories of cultural and ecological shifts in the development of Los Angeles and its region

• and the renovated galleries for temporary exhibitions, opening on December 22 with Traveling the Silk Road: Ancient Pathway to the Modern World, the fascinating, richly experiential exhibition that takes visitors on a caravan journey with the crafts and spices, ideas and cultures, of peoples spread halfway around the world. Organized by the American Museum of Natural History in New York, Traveling the Silk Road will be shown only at NHM in the United States following the exhibition’s recent tour in Asia.

This summer, evidence of NHM’s new position as a destination for both Angelenos and travelers, the Museum will be designated as an official L.A. Tourism Visitor Center. It will serve as a “first stop” for visitors, giving them a context into the region’s nature and culture that can enhance their stays. Maps, Metro guides, and information from the Los Angeles Tourism and Convention Board will available at our ticket booth and in the Museum Store.

Introducing a Thoroughly Indoor-Outdoor Museum
Visitors will discover that the keynotes of the transformed NHM are transparency and outreach. The light-flooded new entrance re-orients the Museum to face out toward Exposition Boulevard and the city across the recently completed Nature Gardens, drawing the public toward NHM through an urban nature destination and site of discovery where before there had been only acres of asphalt.

The master planning of the NHM site was driven by the mission of the Museum, and was a close collaboration among NHM Board members, key staff and professional firms. Don Webb of the Cordell Corporation was a crucial hire in the ten-year transformation. His experience in financing and redeveloping public facilities enabled the vast range of his involvement: It included restoring and seismically retrofitting galleries and the 1913 Building; creating improved visitor amenities like the Car Park, the café, new elevators, ADA ramps and more. But beyond those separate interior components, Webb helped re-envision the Museum as an indoor-outdoor institution with space for nature experiences and a new, inviting presence from the street.

One of the ironies of historic renovation work is that it is most successful when it is invisible and, of course, even world-class exhibits are concealed behind the building’s doors and walls, noted Webb. “The Nature Gardens extend this transformation dramatically outward and represent not only a difference in degree but rather a difference in kind. Now the Museum begins at the sidewalk. The iconic symbol of this inside-out transformation, the Otis Booth Pavilion, literally lays bare the reality that at the Natural History Museum the wonders of the world are on full display. Working with a design architect like Fabian Kremkus, talented and enthusiastic enough to fully develop this unique design opportunity, was one of the most enjoyable aspects of the project.”

CO Architects (an award-winning architecture, interiors, and planning firm known for creating mission-driven designs for cultural, educational, and healthcare clients) led by Kremkus, collaborated with NHM staff and Cordell on master planning of the site and gardens, the bridge, and Car Park as well as bringing light into new and remodeled galleries and the innovative design of Otis Booth Pavilion.

The glass-sided, six-story Otis Booth Pavilion, which now will serve as the main entrance, creates a visual centerpiece for the Nature Gardens by day and a glowing beacon to Los Angeles by night. In it, visitors will hear the sounds of the real fin whale, and experience an immersive light experience provided by the 33,600 LED lights which can simulate water, other fish and animals, and shadows. Named in honor of the late civic leader and NHM Trustee Otis Booth in recognition of an unprecedented $13 million gift from the Otis Booth Foundation, the Pavilion connects the Museum directly to the new dedicated stops on the Metro Expo Line by means of a soaring cantilever bridge, designed in shape to be reminiscent of a whale, which spans the Nature Gardens and the Museum’s new outdoor amphitheater. The direct ground-floor passage from the Nature Gardens through the Pavilion to the NHM’s new Nature Lab sums up the seamless experience of the indoor-outdoor Museum, while the dramatic installation, high up in the Pavilion, of NHM’s 63-foot-long fin whale specimen makes a signature object in the collection visible from afar, embodying NHM’s commitment to connect science with the community.

The Nature Gardens is designed to be an ever-changing, year-round nature experience in the heart of Los Angeles, and a place of discovery where visitors of all ages can engage in citizen science projects with NHM scientists and educators. Working with Pisano and Webb, a team of California-based firms collaborated to design Nature Gardens and the Otis Booth Pavilion, including Mia Lehrer + Associates (MLA), a landscape architectural design firm that has earned a reputation for integrating visionary design with community engagement with projects including the Orange County Great Park, the Annenberg Community Beach House, and the Los Angeles River Revitalization Master Plan. Plantings have been selected to attract butterflies, hummingbirds, ladybugs and other indigenous wildlife, making the Nature Gardens a living exhibition where the public can explore, experiment, learn and enjoy.

Beginning near Exposition Boulevard with the Transition Garden, where the plantings trace the history of Southern California’s flora from the time of the Spanish missions to today, visitors can make their way past the irrepressible variety of plants and animals bursting through the cracks in the Living Wall; pause at the Listening Tree to marvel at the amplified sounds of water coursing through the roots; use the Bird-Viewing Platform to spot some of the 172 different species of birds identified to date in Exposition Park; join in the hands-on, soil-science activities in the Get Dirty Zone; and continue down to the fruit trees, vegetable beds and helpful buzzing insects of the Edible Garden. In the middle of it all is the Amphitheater, where outdoor film screenings, lectures and other events will engage and delight audiences of all ages.

Situated between the Nature Gardens and the indoor exhibitions, the new Nature Lab is a bustling hub of investigation where visitors of all ages can have fun participating in research, and explore a colorful, media-filled space that reveals L.A.’s surprising, rich and ever-changing wildlife and urban biodiversity.

Touchscreens assist visitors with activities such as identifying birds, discerning the creatures that may be behind backyard sounds and creating “Memory Maps” of nature experiences that they can email to themselves. Images captured by the Museum’s “critter cams,” which were installed as the Nature Gardens were growing in, will exhibit rarely seen, and frequently surprising, glimpses of L.A. wildlife. The Nature Lab is also a center for citizen science projects such as BioSCAN (Biodiversity Science: City and Nature), an unprecedented collaboration between scientists and Museum householders to discover insect species previously unrecorded in Los Angeles, as well as related citizen science initiatives such as the Lost Lizards of Los Angeles, the Lost Ladybugs Project, and the Los Angeles Spider Survey.

Helping to realize the citizen science projects both at the Museum and off-site is NHM’s new website: A major resource for Los Angeles residents and people everywhere who are intrigued by the natural world, the highly interactive website will provide a multitude of opportunities for engagement, from uploading visitors’ photographs of the species they have spotted while exploring the Nature Gardens to participating in the species-tracking projects represented in the Nature Lab.

“Between our new Nature Gardens and the resources of the Nature Lab, Angelenos can connect the ongoing work of our scientists with the diverse urban wildlife of greater L.A. in ways that are directly relevant to all of our daily lives,” according to Karen Wise, Vice President of Education and Exhibits. “This is real science, done by our scientists in partnership with Angelenos of all ages and backgrounds. We are calling on the eyes, ears and cameras of our visitors to help us map L.A.’s nature.”

Today's News

June 10, 2013

Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County unveils $135 million transformation

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