Our vision for the future of La Brea Tar Pits unveiled

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Today, we presented our vision for the future of the unique living laboratory of La Brea Tar Pits, located in the middle of Los Angeles. As the only active paleontological research facility in the world located in a major urban area, this place is an enormously popular and valuable cultural asset for Los Angeles County, attracting locals and visitors from around the world. The museum hold one of the world’s most extensive and valuable collections of natural and cultural history —more than 35 million objects.

Since the research began in 1913, the Tar Pits have yielded millions of samples, including saber-toothed cats, dire wolf and mastodon skeletons, innumerable plants, small rodents, and insects – and new discoveries are made daily in the Tar Pits open-air excavations. These collections constitute an unparalleled resource for understanding environmental change in Los Angeles, and the planet, during the last 50,000 years of Earth’s history.

An international field
In March 2019, NHMLAC asked a selected, international group of architecture firms to assemble teams of landscape architects, scientists, engineers, designers and artists to begin to reimagine La Brea Tar Pits. We teamed up with landscape architect Martha Schwartz Partners (New York), executive architects Gruen Associates (Los Angeles), visual designers Kontrapunkt (Copenhagen) and engineering firm Arup (Los Angeles).

“After embarking on the process to reimagine La Brea Tar Pits earlier this year, we selected three firms with established expertise in integrating public green space with museum collections to help us see the site with fresh eyes,” said NHMLAC President and Director, Dr. Lori Bettison-Varga.

Together with the two other finalist, Weiss/Manfredi (New York) and Diller Scofidio + Renfro (New York), we participated in a special “ideas incubator” held in June 2019 during which more than seventy leading figures from the fields of science, the arts, design, entertainment, education, technology, communications, philanthropy, and government gathered for a day of open-ended discussion.

Today, two and a half’s months later, the three conceptual approaches for a master plan for Hancock Park and the Page Museum where presented, concerning the 12-acre site. A site which has not been renovated or considered comprehensively since it opened more than forty years ago.

”These three concepts offer us distinct approaches to consider—but all of them are deeply thoughtful, and all have responded fully to our stated goals: We want to preserve and enhance community use of Hancock Park while making the collection more visible to the public, showing science in action, and adding to our visitor amenities. All three submissions offer fascinating ideas for creating a more robust and engaging visitor experience while enhancing the Tar Pits as a destination and cultural hub that inspires wonder in our natural and cultural worlds,” Dr. Lori Bettison-Varga continues.

Increasing park space
A crucial element in the approach of our team, has been to increase the area of the museum, without decreasing green park space. “For the residents of Los Angeles, Hancock Park and the Page Museum are nostalgic places that bring back memories,” said Dorte Mandrup-Poulsen. "We will cherish and build on this, as we open up and extend the park and museum to become one big living laboratory.”

Our proposal interweaves the park and museum, so the moment you step inside the park you become immersed into the story of the Tar Pits. We want a visit here to be a journey of curiosity, where senses and imagination are instantly awakened. Our hope is that this will bring visitors much closer to the world of natural science, and in turn heighten their understanding of the past, present and future of our planet.

On public display
Displays prepared by the three teams will be on public view in the museum at La Brea Tar Pits through September 15, with materials including models, renderings and drawings. Digital versions of the materials can be found on TarPits.org. The public is encouraged to provide feedback on site or online.

To assist with their selection, NHMLAC assembled a jury of leading Los Angeles-based figures from the fields of architecture, landscape architecture, design, science and the arts including Milton Curry, Dean of USC School of Architecture; Christopher Hawthorne, Chief Design Officer, City of Los Angeles; Kirk Johnson, Director of the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institute; Kristin Sakoda, Executive Director, Los Angeles County Department of Arts and Culture; and Barbara Wilks, Founding Principal and Architect, W Architecture and Landscape Architecture, LLC.

Based on its own review of these concepts, input from the jury, and the public’s feedback, NHMLAC expects to choose one firm by the end of December 2019. The firm will then lead a multi-disciplinary creative team through a public engagement, master planning, design and construction process over the next several years.

Read more about our proposal here.

Renderings by Mir, Dorte Mandrup and Martha Schwartz Partners