Los Angeles, California / 2014-2017

The Main Museum of Los Angeles Art is a non-profit contemporary art museum conceived of by visionary developer Tom Gilmore and located in the heart of the Old Bank District of Downtown Los Angeles. Capitalizing on the tension between historical and contemporary architecture, the project is part adaptive re-use and part new construction. It is devoted to engaging the public with the most important ideas of our time through the art of Los Angeles.

A New Form of Museum

The museum is a three-dimensional space that weaves through, beneath, and on top of the historic Farmers and Merchants Bank, the Hellman Building, and the Bankhouse Garage at 4th and Main Street, inhabiting their hidden recesses and forgotten spaces. It is an unorthodox museum form that withdraws from iconicity and creates an interior world that only occasionally reveals itself on the outside. Rather than the traditional presentation and preservation of a collection in an exclusive environment, the museum embeds art deep into the space and life of the city

A sequence of architectural objects draws visitors through the space, penetrating through floors, peeking over rooftops, and inhabiting dark interior voids to produce a set of discrete experiences rather than a spatial continuum. Finished primarily in black or mirror chrome, the objects create a sense of mystery and opacity. Often, they recede into the background, allowing visitors to focus on the exhibitions and performances. Museum galleries are located in vast basement and sub-basement spaces, adapting existing turn-of-the-century bank vaults and other as-found features to add to the ensemble of objects.

At ground level, the museum directly connects with both Main and 4th Streets. The main entry is through the Hellman Building’s foyer on 4th Street. The museum restaurant, located within the Farmers & Merchants Bank, provides a second means of entry to the museum. The museum penetrates into the restaurant in the form of a diamond-like glazed gallery space perched above the dining room, providing views of art, performance, and people from above and below; and transforming the dining experience into a contemporary cultural scene where art, food, and the social life of Downtown are interwoven.

New Ground

The rooftop of the Bankhouse Garage is transformed into a new public ground in the city. It includes a promenade with a sculpture garden, cafe, and amphitheater, and can be accessed from Main Street, 4th Street, or Spring Street. On the west facade of the Bankhouse Garage, a double-skinned multimedia art wall contains circulation connecting the promenade to Spring Street Park below. A new façade on Main Street draws attention from street to roof, offering glimpses of the café and sculpture garden yet never revealing the extents of the project in full. The rooftop becomes the ‘fifth façade’ of the museum, easily viewed from the tallest buildings in Downtown Los Angeles.

Eschewing the smoothness and continuity that have become familiar in this late period of digital design, this project is ultimately based on a new, non-literal form of coherence created by the uniqueness of specific objects and the vicarious relations produced between them. Rather than an endless space, the museum becomes a set of discrete yet durable experiences of art and architecture.

Location: Los Angeles, California
Floor Area: 106,000 SF
Program: Adaptive Re-use and New Construction
Client: The Main Museum of Los Angeles Art
Structural: Walter P Moore
Composites Advising: Kreysler Associates
Cost Advising: Hathaway Dinwiddie Construction