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LA's Natural History Museum unveils 10-year masterplan

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The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles (NHM) has revealed its masterplan to transform the 104-year-old institution over the next decade.

Designed by Frederick Fisher and Partners (FF&P), the NHM West/South Project will reimagine the physical space and programmes of the museum, which sits on the same site as George Lucas’ upcoming Museum of Narrative Art.

The FF&P masterplan focuses on areas that were not worked on during the original 10-year plan which was completed in 2013. The blueprint promises increased flexibility, capacity and transparency for the museum’s gallery space, as well as creating a study centre and educational spaces while enhancing visible storage of its collections.

A multi-purpose, immersive theatre is also included plans and the extra space will act as a hub for the communities around Exposition Park.

The concepts show the museum’s Jean Delacour Auditorium wing replaced with a three-storey building and basement – a 485,000 sq ft (45,000sq m) development that would increase total museum space by 60,000sq ft (5,574sq m).

The new wing, which will bookend the main NHM building, features a glass facade, enabling people on Exposition Park’s south lawn to see into the museum, while “giving literal expression to the museum’s desire to be open and connected to the community”.

Glass displays set into the extension’s facade will showcase collections on a rotating basis.

The museum’s south entrance will be transformed, with the redeveloped space running the length of the south-west perimeter. The scheme also proposes reworking office and gallery spaces in the current building to facilitate a more dynamic overlap between public display areas, research activities and collections, and its educational programmes. Finally, a new rooftop restaurant will be created, offering panoramic views across the city.

“What I find thrilling about NHM, in addition to its amazing collections and wonderful presentations, is the way it serves as a point of focus for the diverse communities that gather there, and as an intersection between these communities and the museum’s activities,” said Frederick Fisher, design principal and founder of FF&P.

“We're pleased to be partnering with NHM in its aspiration to connect visitors to the museum’s exhibitions, collections, scientific work and outdoor spaces highlighting the biodiversity of Los Angeles, and also to connect the museum itself with the constellation of other institutions in Exposition Park.”

According to NHM, the facilities programme will serve as a roadmap for the subsequent architectural design process. Los Angeles County is supporting the project with US$2.5m (€2.1m, £1.9m) to develop the next round of schematic designs and testing to determine the scope of the project. The masterplan will also look at the museum’s second location, located at the La Brea Tar Pits, which is home to its Ice Age fossil site and museum.

“The guiding principle of our new museum project is to create an engaging, accessible hub that activates our collections, exhibitions and programmes to better serve our community and have a greater impact on people’s lives,” said Dr Lori Bettison-Varga, president and director of NHM.

“We aim to bring more of our behind-the-scenes work into the light and create more opportunities for the public to connect with our ongoing scientific research and vast collections.

“In selecting FF&P as our partner, we've chosen a firm that has the proven ability to create fluid indoor-outdoor spaces that speak to the values of the client, as well as extensive experience in adapting historic buildings to create transparent and welcoming environments for broad audiences.”

The museum plans complement a complete redevelopment of Exposition Park and its surrounding neighbourhood. In addition to the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, the Los Angeles Football Club home stadium and the Expo Line tram system, plans include a renovation of the LA Memorial Coliseum and a permanent building at the California Science Center for the space shuttle Endeavour. The park currently draws around four million visitors annually.

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The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles (NHM) has revealed its masterplan to transform the 104-year-old institution over the next decade.
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