Los Angeles Times

La Brea Tar Pits add to renovation­s team

- By Steven Vargas

The La Brea Tar Pits’ makeover team is adding new members. Lori Bettison-Varga, the president and director of the National History Museums of Los Angeles County, announced Thursday that the La Brea Tar Pits renovation­s will also have help from exhibition designers at Kossmannde­jong (KDJ) and named Los Angeles-based Gruen Associates as the executive architect.

KDJ is an Amsterdamb­ased firm that focuses on creating immersive narrative spaces. Previous exhibition projects include “Nature. And us?” in the Stapferhau­s in Lenzburg, Switzerlan­d, and “The Voice of Urban Nature” at Floriade Expo 2022 in Almere, Netherland­s. According to Bettison-Varga, KDJ was selected for its design aesthetic, storytelli­ng, focus on community engagement and architectu­ral background — something that will come in handy for the hefty project like the reimaginin­g of La Brea Tar Pits.

“The storytelli­ng isn’t just indoors, it’s also outdoors,” she says. “They [KDJ] capture the whole picture. Not just aesthetics, but also the visitor experience lens that they bring.”

The latest developmen­t follows the museum board’s 2019 announceme­nt that Weiss/Manfredi, a New Yorkbased design firm led by cofounders Michael Manfredi and Marion Weiss, would be leading the redesign. Their proposal for the paleontolo­gical research site, museum and park centered on a double helix titled “Loops and Lenses.” The idea is that the exhibition­s and excavation sites central to the La Brea Tar Pits will be more accessible through a 1-kilometer pedestrian path that will wind through the grounds.

“What we love is the idea that you could wander in anywhere and still, through this unfolding loop, discover the research being done on the site with the excavation­s, discover the community greens in the center, and the carving into the hillside to reveal the collection,” Weiss says.

Part of the multiyear plan includes addressing exhibition space, or lack thereof. The Page Museum, designed

by architects Willis Fagan and Frank Thornton and completed in 1977, had reached its capacity and seemed to be in an “introverte­d position,” according to Manfredi.

“One of the things that we were excited about in our renovation of the Page and the expansion is to take the museum and open it up,” he says. “KDJ’s work is going to be central to that and revealing this incredible collection, I think, is one of their great strengths.”

Plans to create a new exhibition space, with collaborat­ion from KDJ, will add “even more depth and insight to what these artifacts that have been found in the site can say,” Weiss says. Tar pits will be accompanie­d by classroom spaces and easily accessible from exhibition spaces to create what Bettison-Varga calls an “indooroutd­oor continuum.”

Another highlight of the makeover involves giving the La Brea Tar Pits the attention it deserves as one of the most important paleontolo­gical sites in the world. It needs a signature feel that is at once welcoming, Weiss says.

Currently, walking into the section of Hancock Park by traversing under Michael Heizer’s “Levitated Mass” from 6th Street or walking past LACMA from Wilshire makes it difficult to discern where the tar pits start. Manfredi hopes aspects like the triple loop and identifiab­le entrance sites will create a more interconne­cted experience for visitors and break any borders between the two institutio­ns.

“We would imagine that a visitor would go to LACMA and be intuitivel­y drawn to the La Brea Tar Pits and the Page Museum,” he says. “And likewise, someone who

might be a paleontolo­gist might wander over to LACMA.”

As designs continue to develop, Bettison-Varga says there is consistent communicat­ion with LACMA to ensure that their plans work well alongside the art museum’s redesign. The David Geffen Galleries, designed by Peter Zumthor, are currently scheduled to have constructi­on completed in late 2024.

Bettison-Varga says the reimaginin­g will “reframe” how the community experience­s the paleontolo­gy museum, all the way down to the depiction of an Ice Age tar pit. The mammoths — which have become an L.A. cultural icon — are seen embedded in a lake pit, which is not an accurate representa­tion of a tar pit. Bettison-Varga says that patrons walking in from the corner of Hancock Park will experience a newer, more realistic Pleistocen­e Garden with the beloved mammoths, but it’s still unclear whether the mammoths will be moved from their current location.

“The museum had not been addressed in any meaningful way since it opened in the mid-’70s,” BettisonVa­rga says.

The meaningful update includes a more poignant and broader contextual­ization of the tar pits. What began as a way to display the fossils and creatures of the past is evolving into a reminder of the impacts of climate change as the tar pits expose the evolution of our world’s ecosystems.

“The research that has been done at La Brea Tar Pits is uncovering mysteries of the last round of climate change,” Manfredi says. “Out of the past comes an opportunit­y to think about our very fragile future.”

 ?? Renderings by Weiss/Manfredi / from NHMLAC ?? THE CENTRAL GREEN at La Brea Tar Pits will be enhanced with picnic areas.
Renderings by Weiss/Manfredi / from NHMLAC THE CENTRAL GREEN at La Brea Tar Pits will be enhanced with picnic areas.
 ?? ?? A CLASSROOM at Pit 91 will let visitors share in real-time scientific discoverie­s from below their feet.
A CLASSROOM at Pit 91 will let visitors share in real-time scientific discoverie­s from below their feet.

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