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Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County in California by CO Architects
January 22nd, 2018 by Sanjay Gangal
Article source: CO Architects
CO Architects’ innovative expansion and modernization of the 100-year-old Natural History Museum (NHM) of Los Angeles County fully engages museum-goers and puts an interactive and contextually responsive public face on the museum. Through a highly visible redesign of the museum’s North Campus, featuring a new glass pavilion, entry bridge, outdoor amphitheater, and newly developed landscape, the museum has become an inviting indoor-outdoor experience for visitors and passersby. The iconic Beaux-Arts style 1913 Building was retrofitted and renovated—along with the famed Dinosaur Hall—via an investigative process referencing original drawings to preserve the building’s infrastructure. With a completely re-imagined campus, the museum now offers its patrons an active and dynamic center for public engagement and scientific exploration for the next century.
The Museum’s North-facing front entrance looks toward busy Exposition Boulevard, and can be easily accessed by public transportation. Redesigned in the 1970s, the façade was set back from the street. To remake the front entrance into a welcoming portal for visitors, CO Architects demolished the concrete terraces and parking lot that formed the approach to the museum, and excavated the entire North Campus entry to provide improved access. The re-thinking of the North Campus resulted in 3.5 acres of outdoor space ripe for educational programming and “urban wilderness” nature experiences.
Since the former parking lot was reclaimed to allow for more green space, the architects designed a new semi-subterranean two-story car park to accommodate 221 vehicles, maintaining the number of previous spaces. The flowering vine-topped facility is sited to minimize impact on pedestrian flow throughout the North Campus, and designed for maximum natural light and ventilation. Thick, circular glass bricks embedded into the walkways allow daylight to reach the underground space. A 12-foot green screen alerts drivers to vehicular entrances at the north and south ends of the structure. On exit from the structure, visitors approach a new admissions booth.
A prominent feature of NHM’s new “front yard” is the glass-walled Otis Booth Pavilion, serving as the museum’s main entrance. It is accessed through a soaring pedestrian bridge from a promenade connected to Exposition Boulevard. The project architect’s inspiration for the bridge based on large-scale mammal bones came from his childhood home in Germany, where retired sea captains would erect massive whale bones in front of their homes to indicate their eminence in the community. Welcoming visitors as they enter the pavilion is a spectacular display of a 63-foot-long fin whale skeleton—one of the museum’s signature holdings—seen from the exterior as well through three glass walls of the pavilion. The frameless-glass structure epitomizes design and engineering prowess. Its structurally glazed curtain wall is constructed of vertical suspension rods and horizontal knife plates. East and west sides have a receding frit pattern on the glass to mitigate solar heat gain. Radiant ground-level slab conducts heating and cooling. The ground level—under the bridge—enables a visual and physical flow of the interior and exterior, providing a seamless transition from the café and Nature Gardens.
The new Nature Gardens, designed by Mia Lehrer + Associates, dynamically engage visitors with interactive representations of the ecologies of the Los Angeles area, spotlighting native flora and fauna in the spirit of urban biodiversity and “backyard science.” Vibrant community- ntegrated green spaces extend the mission of the Museum, and its reverence for nature, into the greater Exposition Park area.
CO Architects’ retrofit and renovation of the T-shaped 1913 Building married preservation of a 100-year-old building with innovative technology from the 21st century. Using extensive data from the museum’s archives, the project team renovated the building by uncovering the original design, layout, and construction methods of the building and its 1920s additions in order to preserve and simultaneously modernize it. The program included seismically strengthening and retrofitting the building’s exterior masonry walls with current technology that would have no visible impact on the historic fabric. Seismic retrofitting was accomplished by drilling six-inch vertical cores from roof to foundation. In total, 122 cores were fitted with steel rods and filled with a high-strength polymer resin compound that bonds masonry and steel. It represents the largest application of this cutting-edge technology in the United States.
Attention was also paid to the painstaking restoration of many striking architectural details and decorative flourishes, some of which are now visible for the first time in decades. CO Architects worked with artists to replicate a sculpture for the portico—an ornamental detail missing for almost a century—because the original sculpture broke during an earthquake in 1920. Inside the building’s iconic central rotunda, the dome’s jewel-toned, stained-glass interior apex skylight was painstakingly restored by Judson Studio’s David Judson, grandson of the skylight’s original designer. The dome’s cracks were repaired with injected polymer epoxy and gutters were replaced with new copper flashing. The architects implemented solar gray glass panels in front of the windows to screen out 100% of UV rays.
The three exhibition wings were lightened up through additional daylight options as well as the new use of glass. CO Architects designed new rooftop skylights for two wings whose original ones were beyond repair. Constructed of aluminum and insulated glass, these energy-efficient skylights flood natural light into the museum. Interior illumination in exhibition areas was also enhanced by uncovering the large arched windows that had been covered over. The designers responded to a push to further “lighten” the galleries by eliminating mass while retaining the building’s original feeling. A major intervention was the replacement of solid, heavy concrete railing on the rotunda’s mezzanine—which visually separated it from the main level—with clear glass partitions. The glass has the effect of unifying the levels, making it one space, and encouraging people to visit both levels.
The museum’s famed Dinosaur Hall was one of the original wings updated, as well as expanded, and reconfigured. Using data from the archived original designs, the architects seismically stabilized the walls by stiffening the north-south access with a massive sheer wall, while softening the east-west wall with a series of full-height glass sections—bringing in natural light and views to the south for the first time. Wide-span skylights also balance the force and tension of the structural walls. To create a flow between the Hall and connecting building, glass balustrades, steel framing, and retro-plate concrete floors were seamlessly extended to a mezzanine-level bridge. The displays were redesigned, in collaboration with the exhibition teams, to give visitors an eye-to-eye perspective of dinosaur specimens while on viewing platforms. Further renovations included a new glass elevator with views of the butterfly pavilion and gardens.
Home to centuries of Los Angeles history—as well as millions of artifacts spanning billions of years—the NHM is the centerpiece of Exposition Park. CO Architects modernized and restored the venerable museum for the future, making it ready to take on 21st-century urban life.
CO Architects is renowned for its extensive portfolio of large and complex institutional, civic, academic, laboratory, and health care projects, including facility evaluation, renovations, new structures, and comprehensive planning. The firm has designed major “benchmark” and award-winning facilities for clients that include the University of California, Columbia University, Palomar Medical Center West, Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, and Kaiser Permanente. CO Architects is sought after for functional, green, and graceful solutions for academic, civic, and institutional needs.
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