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    LA’s Natural History Museum Celebrates Centennial

    Photo by Art Gray.The new entry pavilion by Co Architects at the Los Angeles Natural History Museum. Photo by Art Gray.

    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.

    Fabian Kremkus, Mia Lehrer and Don Webb at the Natural History Museum. Photo by Ryan Miller.

    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.


    The new Car Park and Ticket Booth at the Los Angeles Natural History Museum. Photo by Tom Bonner.The new Car Park and Entrance Plaza at the Los Angeles Natural History Museum. Photo by Tom Bonner.