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01.05.2011
LA Natural History Museum Going Glassy
CO Architects creates new face for revamping institution, thanks to major gift
The new entryway will be fronted with a large curtain wall facade.
Courtesy CO Architects

Just last April the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles unveiled its elaborate North Campus scheme, which will rework its surrounding grounds into a natural learning center made of gardens, plazas, and architectural elements. Now the same firm working on that project— CO Architects—has released yet another ambitious design, for a glassy new entryway to the perpetually under-visited museum.

The Otis Booth Pavilion, named for Franklin Otis Booth Jr., whose foundation recently donated $13 million for the project, will replace Natural History’s unceremonious entrance— a cluttered collection of steps and walls that is barely visible from the nearest major street, Exposition Boulevard— with a 60-foot-tall pavilion made of large glass panels, each measuring a minimum of 5 feet by 10 feet.

The entrance will be accessed via a raised steel bridge.
The entrance will be accessed via a raised steel bridge.

The open entry is intended to lure new visitors, helping (along with the museum’s several other upgraded facilities) boost the museum’s attendance from 600,000 to more than 1 million, said museum president Dr. Jane Pisano. “I have every confidence we will get to a million,” said Pisano, who noted that since adding its “Age of Mammals” exhibit six months ago, the museum has already boosted attendance by 35 percent. The new entry, which will be accessible via a raised bridge, has been in the works for some time, added, Pisano, but its funding “came sooner than expected.”

The centerpiece of the new pavilion—set to open in 2013—will be the skeleton of a 63-foot-long fin whale, which will hang from the ceiling via steel cables. The skeleton, which was recently rehabilitated, has been in the museum’s possession since 1926.

“It will act like a beacon that you can see from a car or from the subway,” said CO Architects principal Fabian Kremkus, whose firm is thoroughly enmeshed with the museum, working on about a third to a half of the institution’s square footage, he said. Their work includes the pavilion; the North Campus plan; a renovation of the 1913 building; staggered renovations on the ground and second floors of the main building; a new parking garage, a new central plant, and a new service yard. “Piece by piece by piece,” is how Kremkus puts it.

Rendering of the north campus with the new entry incorporated.
Rendering of the north campus with the new entry incorporated.

Outside of the Otis Foundation gift, the museum has raised $84 million out of $135 million for its expansion and renovation plans, said Pisano. The next piece will be its Dinosaur Hall, opening this July. Other elements of the "NHM Next" campaign include the North Campus,  a new Nature Lab, and other new exhibits.

“We’re facing a major street, and it’s high time we took advantage of it,” said Pisano.

Sam Lubell