Three Visions for LA's La Brea Tar Pits

John Hill
27. August 2019
La Brea Tar Pits with the Page Museum beyond (Photo courtesy of La Brea Tar Pits)

The Natural History Museums of Los Angeles County (NHMLAC) has unveiled three conceptual master plans — by Copenhagen's Dorte Mandrup and Diller Scofidio + Renfro and WEISS/MANFREDI, both from New York — that reimagine the world-famous La Brea Tar Pits.

The competition began in March 2019 with a call for international architects to assemble interdisciplinary teams. In June NHMLAC selected the three finalists who presented their designs to the public yesterday, August 26. The winner will be announced in December 2019, following input from the public (between now and September 15 at the Tar Pits and at and input from a jury of "leading figures from the fields of architecture, landscape architecture, design, science, natural history and the arts."

The vision in the winning master plan will become the first renovation to La Brea Tar Pits since the addition of the George C. Page Museum in 1977. The Tar Pits and Page Museum are located in Hancock Park, directly east of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), which is in the process of building a tar-pit-inspired expansion designed by Peter Zumthor. 

NHMLAC, which oversees the Tar Pits and two other Los Angeles museums, has made improvements to the Tar Pits, the Page Museum, and its portion of the park over the years, but the new master plans are meant to address three goals: "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," in the words of NHMLAC President and Director Dr. Lori Bettison-Varga.

Below are images of the three conceptual master plans with descriptions courtesy of the architect-led teams.

Diller Scofidio + Renfro

Elizabeth Diller, Ricardo Scofidio, and Charles Renfro:

"As an urbanized culture, we are rarely conscious of the geological forces that shape the ground we walk (and drive) on. A new masterplan for the La Brea Tar Pits and Page Museum offers a unique opportunity to not only heighten awareness of the natural history held underfoot, but also to engender a sense of responsibility towards the role humans play in shaping the environment they inherit. A revitalized 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."

Diller Scofidio + Renfro: "The Masterplan merges geometries of museum and park, tracing a grid of pathways and landscapes that anticipates future dig sites and seeps while selectively deforming to connect key features of the site and beyond." (Image: DS+R)
Diller Scofidio + Renfro: "A New Arrival Plaza at the Corner of Wilshire & Curson welcomes visitors to the Tar Pits and extends into a ramped museum forecourt, descending 12 feet and 20,000 years in the past." (Image: DS+R)
Diller Scofidio + Renfro: "Public engagement with science occurs throughout the masterplan, including new glass edge of the Tar Pit Lake, revealing this iconic site feature to be a former asphalt mine since filled by rain water." (Image: DS+R)
Diller Scofidio + Renfro: "The reimagined Page Museum lobby is anchored by a hovering 'Archive Block,' a glass enclosed repository for the museum’s collection and surrounded by public circulation and an ascending circuit of exhibition galleries." (Image: DS+R)

Dorte Mandrup

Dorte Mandrup-Poulson:

"For the residents of Los Angeles, Hancock Park and the Page Museum are nostalgic places that bring back memories. We will cherish and build on this, as we 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. A visit here should be a journey of curiosity, where senses and imagination are instantly awakened. Our hope is that this will bring visitors much closer to the world of natural science, and in turn heighten their understanding of the past, present and future of our planet."

Dorte Mandrup: "To unfold the story hidden in the tar pits, we interweave, extend and open up the park and museum, and let people experience the living laboratory that this place truly is." (Image: Dorte Mandrup / Martha Schwartz Partners)
Dorte Mandrup: "A visit here should be a journey of curiosity where the senses and imagination are awakened, with exploratory wayfinding, active research sites, a megafauna playground and prehistoric plants and trees." (Image: Martha Schwartz Partners)
Dorte Mandrup: "Surrounded by Pleistocene fauna, a series of boardwalks connects all activities in the park and lead people curiously up towards the new, open foyer in the Page Museum." (Image: Dorte Mandrup / Martha Schwartz Partners)
Dorte Mandrup: "In the open foyer, visitors passing through get glimpses of activities in the building – below, and above, the collection of spectacular creatures are presented in excavations, laboratories and exhibit spaces." (Image: MIR)


Marion Weiss and Michael Manfredi:

"WEISS/MANFREDI’s proposal, 'La Brea Loops and Lenses,' redefines Hancock Park and the Page Museum as one continuous experience. 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. We are excited to reimagine La Brea and are committed to amplifying this enduring Los Angeles landmark to serve a vibrant community."

WEISS/MANFREDI: "The different identities of the intertwining loops embody journeys that encourage discovery, with programming that appeals to diverse interests—from paleontology to playgrounds." (Image: WEISS/MANFREDI Architecture/Landscape/Urbanism)
WEISS/MANFREDI: "The new 1-kilometer pedestrian path connects the rich yet disparate existing elements of the site, brings drama to the crossing of the Lake Pit, enhances amenities for community engagement and research, and reveals the museum collection." (Image: WEISS/MANFREDI Architecture/Landscape/Urbanism)
WEISS/MANFREDI: "Within the Research and Revelation loop, renewed pit sites allow people to witness active excavation taking place under shaded canopies. Playgrounds throughout provide spaces for children to learn about site’s geology through play and tactile experience." (Image: WEISS/MANFREDI Architecture/Landscape/Urbanism)
WEISS/MANFREDI: "Panoramic labs flank the exhibition pit, encouraging dialogue between the past and present. Here, the collection and active research are brought into sharp focus." (Image: WEISS/MANFREDI Architecture/Landscape/Urbanism)

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