Frozen Music: A Monthly Thread about Architecture and Design

Hello, and welcome to the first of what will, hopefully, be a monthly feature. This will be a place for us to discuss architecture and design, to share news and opinions about the built environment, and to chart the path of what Goethe called “frozen music.”

I’d intended to write a back of the envelope history of early modern design, starting with people like Louis Sullivan and William Morris, looking at Frank Lloyd Wright and the vernacular industrial architecture of turn of the 20th century America, and ending up at the Bauhaus with Walter Gropius. And then this story crossed my desk:

Prepare your farewells: LACMA winds up to tear down its campus

The abatement work, the removal of asbestos and other hazardous materials, has begun on the Los Angeles County Museum of Art campus. Four buildings, the original three (designed by my favorite architect, William Pereira, who beat Ludwig Mies van der Rohe for the contract) from 1965, and the Robert O. Anderson/Art of the Americas Building (Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer Associates) from 1986, will be demolished in the first half of this year, eradicating the original plan of the museum, turning this:


into this:


The museum’s director, Michael Govan, once a mid-level functionary at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, has decided to make his mark, and presumably write his ticket to the catbird seat at the Met, by unmaking a masterpiece of California Modern civic architecture, and replacing it with an airport terminal by way of the Apple Store (and Swiss architect Peter Zumthor).

The new plan has less gallery space, no administrative space (all that will be moved across the street to a nondescript office building), and crosses directly over Wilshire Boulevard. So if you were thinking about parking a truck bomb under a museum, come to LA in a few years.

How many years? Well, that’s unclear. The plan is to reopen the museum (oh, didn’t I mention that the entire permanent collection, with the exception of the contemporary art in the Broad building, is going to be in storage for a few years?) in 2023. Of course, that’s provided everything in this massive construction project, which has a budget of $650 million, of which about two thirds has actually been raised, goes smoothly. If you’ve ever had to put a new roof on your house, or get new floors or kitchen cabinets, you know exactly how smoothly construction projects go.

I’ve spilled a lot of digital ink venting my spleen about this. So have people who make a living writing architecture criticism.

LACMA: Suicide by Architecture

An Open Letter to Peter Zumthor

But you know how it goes with mercenaries and careerists; just look at what happened to Penn Station:

Pennsylvania Station (1910-1963)

Anyway, next month I’ll deliver the first part of that Modernism article. In the mean time, use this space to share, discuss, and celebrate the design and architecture you care about. This month’s topic: preservation, adaptive reuse, and the buildings we’ve lost.