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Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County unveils concept for new project
New Lobby and Welcome Center at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. Courtesy of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.

LOS ANGELES, CA.- The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County has unveiled concept designs by Los Angeles architecture firm Frederick Fisher and Partners that would support new uses for the west and south sides of the 104-year-old museum and establish new points of entry into the building from Exposition Park. Following a period of strategic planning for the future, the NHM West/South Project is the first major step of an ambitious 10-year program to revitalize NHM’s profile as the historic hub of Exposition Park, and reimagine the physical space and programs of its world-renowned Ice Age fossil site at the La Brea Tar Pits and Museum in Hancock Park.

“Exposition Park, and the Natural History Museum as its anchor, is about to enter the world stage as a cultural, entertainment, sports, and education destination,” said County Board Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas. “Its audiences are twofold: local Los Angeles County residents and visitors from all over the world, and the park partners need to connect with both. This new project provides a vibrant and transparent window into the mysteries of our world and will be an exciting and welcoming venue for the entire community.”

Exposition Park is home to a number of major destinations in addition to NHM, including the California Science Center, Science Center School, California African American Museum, Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, Banc of California Stadium (home of the Los Angeles Football Club, opening May 2018), the City Rose Garden and Expo Center, and the future Lucas Museum of Narrative Art (scheduled to open across from NHM in 2021).

In collaboration with NHM, FF&P has developed a facilities program plan for the Exposition Park museum campus that will focus primarily on areas that were not addressed by the decade-long NHM Next transformation completed in 2013, with an eye toward further increasing flexibility, capacity and transparency of the museum’s gallery space, creating a new study center for Los Angeles and educational spaces, and enhancing the visible storage of its collections.

A key component of the program plan is a multi-purpose, immersive theater that will serve as a meeting space for dialogue about critical issues affecting our natural and cultural worlds, and as a vital gathering place for the community and neighborhoods around Exposition Park.

The FF&P facilities program plan for NHM will serve as a road map for the subsequent architectural design process. Los Angeles County is supporting the project with $2.5 million to develop the next round of schematic designs and testing to determine the scope of the project.

“The guiding principle of our new museum project is to create an engaging accessible hub that activates our collections, exhibitions and programs to better serve our community and have a greater impact on people’s lives,” said Dr. Lori Bettison-Varga, President and Director of NHM. “We aim to bring more of our behind-the-scenes work into the light and create more opportunities for the public to connect with our ongoing scientific research and vast collections. In selecting FF&P as our partner, we have chosen a firm that has the proven ability to create fluid indoor-outdoor spaces that speak to the values of the client, as well as extensive experience in adapting historic buildings to create transparent and welcoming environments for broad audiences.”

Preliminary concepts propose replacing NHM’s existing Jean Delacour Auditorium wing with a new three-story addition plus basement totaling approximately 485,000 sq. ft., with a net increase of 60,000 sq. ft. With its long axis running north/south, this simple rectangular structure would bookend the primary mass of the NHM building with a contemporary form that, in orientation, would complement the historic 1913 structure. The addition would be sheathed in glass of varying transparency, enabling people on the South Lawn to see into NHM while giving literal expression to the museum’s desire to be open and connected to the community. Large-scale vitrines set into the façade would showcase a rotating sample of NHM’s varied collections.

By adding a new entrance at the corner, the scheme would also transform the south entrance from a single entry point at the building’s center into something more like a front porch, running the length of the museum’s southwestern perimeter. Upon entering, visitors would pass through a double-height lobby in the southwest corner, where a Welcome Center and other amenities would lead the way through a transparent passageway toward the current Grand Foyer. The scheme proposes reworking office and gallery spaces in the current building to facilitate a more dynamic overlap between the museum’s public display areas, its extensive research activities and collections, and its educational programs. A new rooftop restaurant with panoramic views across the city would add to NHM’s reputation as a destination for tourists and Angelenos alike.

“What I find thrilling about the Natural History Museum, in addition to its amazing collections and wonderful presentations, is the way it serves as a point of focus for the diverse communities that gather there, and as an intersection between these communities and the museum’s activities,” said Frederick Fisher, Design Principal and founder of FF&P. “We are pleased to be partnering with NHM in its aspiration to connect visitors to the museum’s exhibitions, collections, scientific work and outdoor spaces highlighting the biodiversity of Los Angeles, and also to connect the museum itself with the constellation of other institutions in Exposition Park.”

Founded in 1983, Frederick Fisher and Partners (FF&P) is one of the nation’s leading creators of spaces that inspire, educate, and enhance communities. Some of FF&P's clients known for representing these characteristics include MoMA PS1, the Annenberg Foundation, Princeton University, Colby Art Museum, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, the Broad Art Foundation, the Getty Museum, the University of Southern California, Otis College of Art and Design, Crossroads School for Arts and Sciences, and the Buckley School. FF&P is working with USC on the Iovine and Young Academy for Arts, Technology and the Business of Innovation (with HED) to change the way professionals use design, technology and business, and with the City of Santa Monica to create a City Services Building that is California’s first Living Building Challenge building, the most stringent environmental building standard in the world.

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