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Globe Trotting
Academy of Motion Pictures shares revamped design by Renzo Piano and Zoltan Pali.
Courtesy Renzo Piano Building Workshop / Studio Pali Fekete

Renzo Piano and Zoltan Pali, who are designing a new museum for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences—which has been renamed the David Geffen Theater— unveiled new schematic designs last week, showing off several changes to the original renderings shared last fall. As plans solidify it’s becoming apparent that the complex, combined with LACMA’s ambitious expansion, will rival any location in Los Angeles for cultural importance.

The design involves a renovation of and addition to AC Martin’s Streamline Moderne May Company Building (1939) on Wilshire and Fairfax. The major new component is a 140-foot-diameter glass and steel globe sited behind the existing building, which will contain, among other things, a 1,000-seat theater. In the previous plan, a portion of a 1940 addition to the May building wrapped around the globe’s east side. That piece will now be demolished.

Building section.

Other updates include an angular, exposed structural concrete underside to the globe—mimicking the theater’s seating rake—supported by columns. By reorienting the theater south (it had faced north), the team was able to free up covered space under the structure, enlarging the adjacent outdoor plaza, said Zoltan Pali. Above the theater, still inside the globe, will be a large indoor plaza. The globe itself will be supported with “thin and lacy” steel cables and piping that cut into the globe in large pieces.

Between the May building and the Globe, the architects have designed what they call the spine, an interstitial space connecting the two buildings and containing mechanical systems. This element, made out of what Pali called “the lightest possible glass and steel,” will look somewhat like scaffolding, conjuring up images of film and theater sets. Bright red steel components will cover mechanical systems, making them part of the architecture. This is a reference not only to Piano’s work at LACMA, but also to his Centre Pompidou in Paris.


The renovated May building itself will remain largely intact, containing the majority of the complex’s exhibition spaces. The ground floor will contain the lobby, exhibits, and dining space. The second and third floors will contain exhibits, the fourth will contain educational spaces, and the fifth floor will contain events spaces. Smaller new theaters and screening rooms will be built on the ground, second, and third floors. The project’s EIR process has just begun, and construction should begin in 18 months. Completion is scheduled for 2017.

“LACMA will be quite a place,” said Pali. “I think it can be our cultural core.”

Sam Lubell