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That Other LACMA
Less limelight for major transformation of non-broad museum

Although it hasn’t gotten much attention, another firm besides Renzo Piano Building Workshop is working on a major commission at the LA County Museum of Art (LACMA).

Culver City-based SPF:A in November finished first schematic designs for the renovation and transformation of LACMA’s May Company Building, just west of Piano’s almost-completed (and just snubbed by its namesake) Broad Contemporary Art Museum. The May building, known as LACMA West, now contains small exhibition spaces, offices, and warehouse-like storage. Many of its windows are boarded up. It will be transformed into a major exhibition space containing much of LACMA’s contemporary art collection, as well as a restaurant, book shop, and special event spaces. The firm was commissioned for the project in August.

The five-story streamline moderne building at 6067 Wilshire was designed as a May Company department store by AC Martin and Samuel Marx in 1939. The structure’s most recognizable element is the cylindrical, gold-colored tower and deco signage on its northwest side. LACMA purchased the property in 1991, opening it for exhibitions in 1999. SPF:A will keep the facade intact, repairing and replacing worn-out elements and bringing the building to code. The northeast corner will be changed to accommodate a “signature” display, although that element has not been worked out, explained SPF:A partner Zoltan Pali.

Inside, the firm will open up once chopped-up spaces, creating open-plan gallery and work spaces, and using a minimal palette meant to defer to the artwork. The mezzanine, now boarded up, will be opened and connected to the entry to create a dramatic, double-height public space. The third and fourth floors will be used for offices, and the top floor will include a boardroom and outdoor gathering and exhibition spaces. 

The project will be completed in 2010, and fundraising is in full swing. 

Sam Lubell