Slowly but surely, LACMA's David Geffen Galleries are taking shape above Wilshire Boulevard.

The project, which began work in 2020, was the subject of contention at the time due to a decision by museum leadership to replace the museum's original buildings designed by William Pereira. In their place stands a new two-story structure which bridges across Wilshire Boulevard and will feature gallery space, a new theater, classrooms, restaurant space, a shop, event space, and other back-of house functions.

Aerial view of the David Geffen Galleries from above the La Brea Tar PitsHunter Kerhart Architectural Photography

Peter Zumthor's designed the building with an amorphous footprint, with a largely concrete exterior and glass wrapping the upper gallery. The museum intends to use this space to display works such as sculptures, tiles, and ceramics which can be shown safely in natural light.

The David Geffen Galleries, consisting of 350,000 square feet of total space and 110,000 square feet of gallery space, will actually be smaller than the buildings they replaced, which accounted for roughly 393,000 square feet of total floor area - including 120,000 square feet of galleries. LACMA has argued that the difference is accounted for by the relocation of art storage and office space to off-site locations. Likewise, the museum has pointed out that the museum's overall footprint will be 220,000 square feet after completion of the new project - up from 130,000 square feet in 2007.

Nonetheless, the project will likely preclude future expansion on LACMA's Mid-Wilshire campus. Instead, the museum is poised to set up satellite outposts in South L.A. outpost and at the Frank Gehry-designed SELA Cultural Center in South Gate.

Aerial view of the David Geffen Galleries from above the LACMA campusHunter Kerhart Architectural Photography

The $750-million fundraising campaign for the project was completed in August 2023, according to the Building LACMA website. Of that total, $650 million had been earmarked for construction. However, as of October 2023, the total cost for the new wing had risen to $715 million, according to the New York Times.

Cost has long been an issue of contention for the project. After a 2013 plan for a structure which would not have spanned across Wilshire was discarded due to concerns of impacts to the adjacent La Brea Tar Pits, the progenitor to the under-construction project was unveiled to the public in 2016. However, as the estimated price tag began to climb, the project underwent value engineering, swapping out exterior finishes and cutting the amount of gallery space.

Despite those measures, the price tag for the scaled-back vision was stated as $650 million when approved by the L.A. County Board of Supervisors in 2019. But even then, some within the County feared it could grow still. An internal e-mail sent in 2019 warned that the cost could rise to as much as $900 million, and cautioned that Los Angeles County should avoid committing any more than the $125 million in public funds already allocated to the project.

View east down Wilshire BoulevardAtelier Peter Zumthor/The Boundary

Changes to the design have also appeared to grate on the project's architect. In an October 2023 interview with the New York Times, Zumthor expressed dissatisfaction with cost-driven changes to the galleries, stating that “There are no Zumthor details any more."

Completion of the David Geffen Galleries remains on track to occur in late 2024, according to the Building LACMA website. However, it may not fully open until 2026, as LACMA prepares the new wing for visitors.

LACMA's overhaul follows the 2021 completion of the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures at Wilshire and Fairfax Avenue, and could set the stage for a revamp of the adjacent La Brea Tar Pits and George C. Page Museum. The biggest change for the area is occurring below ground, where a new subway station is poised to open next year at Wilshire and Fairfax.

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