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Planet Hollywood
Piano and Pali unveil ambitious design for the Museum of Motion Pictures in Los Angeles.
Courtesy Renzo Piano Building Workshop / Studio Pali Fekete

For more than half a century, Hollywood’s film industry has tried and failed to build a museum dedicated to its substantial legacy. Now, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is giving it another try. Today, the academy unveiled designs by Renzo Piano and Zoltan Pali of the Museum of Motion Pictures, to be located inside the historic May Company building on the corner of Wilshire Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue, next to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA).

Piano and Pali’s scheme will restore the Wilshire and Fairfax facades of the 1939 Streamline Moderne building, with its iconic golden cylinder corner, designed by Albert C. Martin and Samuel A. Marx. But rising from the northeast corner of the building will be a spherical glass and steel structure, designed as the museum's focal point, and, as Academy officials have put it, as a representation of "the marriage of art and technology.”


The globe appears to be much more adventurous than any of the additions Piano designed for neighboring LACMA. It will dominate the back of the building, protruding from its top as if a meteor had landed on the May Company. It will merge with a rectilinear glass and steel structure located on the site of a 1940s add-on to the building, explained Pali. 

"Hopefully it will transport you to another world, the way movies do," he added.

Above the globe will sit a rooftop deck while large balconies will cantilever from its upper floors.

The project will, said Piano in a statement, “finally enable this wonderful building to be animated and contribute to the city after sitting empty for so long.” Indeed, the May Company building, once a swanky department store, has been largely vacant for almost 20 years. Many of its glass storefronts and entrances have already been restored.

The nearly 300,000-square-foot movie museum will contain exhibitions and galleries, screening rooms (including a theater inside part of the glass sphere), and an interactive education center with demonstration labs. It will draw from the Academy’s huge archives, which include over 140,000 films, 10 million photos, 42,000 film posters, 10,000 production drawings, costumes, props, and movie equipment, among many other objects.

As of now the Academy—its campaign chaired by Tom Hanks and Annette Bening— has raised $100 million of its goal of $250 million for the museum. Last year the Academy scrapped a pricier $400 million plan for a museum on Vine Street by Christian de Portzamparc. That lot now contains a lawn for film screenings.

The museum is set to break ground in 2014 and be completed by 2016 or 2017.

Sam Lubell