Zumthor’s building is a return to an outmoded form of architecture and urbanism, to a time when planners sought above all to bring order to a chaotic city, seeing their potential metropolis as an abstraction: a utopia of glass and steel, free of messiness, crime and germs. Perhaps the most influential planning mind of the 20th century, Le Corbusier, described the city as “a blank piece of paper, a clean tablecloth, upon which a single, integrated composition is imposed.”
Zumthor’s single, integrated composition (now tan instead of black!), raised high above the grime of the city, is just a building. The strength of LACMA as it stands now is its complexity; it’s more like a city, and a vibrantly messy one at that. It’s connected to the street, the neighborhood and its varied parts, encouraging movement between structures, levels and plazas, whether you’re in the museum or not. It’s one of the few major destinations in L.A. that feels like a true urban environment, not a newly manufactured one.
LACMA Director Michael Govan has touted Zumthor’s single-story, self-contained form as an anti-hierarchical realm where no one type of art rises above another. But whatever benefits that idea may carry, and whatever variety and grace Zumthor’s design may hold inside, how can we, from an architectural, urban and environmental standpoint, promote tearing down and starting over?