The Los Angeles Natural History Museum is 100 years old. So, like any grande dame celebrating a centennial, it has had work done. Actually, a lot of it, totaling $135 million spread over the last decade. The museum’s renovation—let’s call it a re-imagining—is predicated on presenting a new indoor-outdoor experience.
Let’s start with the entry procession. It is re-oriented outward to face the city and Exposition Boulevard with, yes, its Metro Expo stop. From a just-built parking structure that segues to a striking pedestrian bridge, visitors confront an ultra-modern, gleaming new entry, all the work of Co Architects . This jewel in the crown, formally named Otis Booth Pavilion, is a six-story transparent cube.
“The big idea,” says Fabian Kremkus, associate principal, “was to put a fin whale inside a glass box.” The volume not only houses the 63-foot-long specimen suspended from steel cables, but multitasks as well. It centers the surrounding amphitheater, is a beacon to Los Angeles, and serves as venue for its own sound and light show with 33,600 LEDs and a sound system that replicates the whale’s low frequency. Down on the ground level, a new 6,000-square-foot Nature Lab connects directly with the outdoor gardens.
Thanks to Mia Lehrer + Associates , the entire 3.5-acre site has been transformed into Nature Gardens. Among its varied environments are a water habitat stocked with turtles and lizards, edible and flowering gardens, and a dry creek bed. Some 153,000 square feet of former parking lots and concrete are now green.
The building itself, a 1913 Beaux Arts structure, saw a comprehensive seismic retrofit. Improvements are all but invisible. The overall project does, however, show us new meaning to nature-nurture efforts.