Take a First Look at the Future of La Brea Tar Pits
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Take a First Look at the Future of La Brea Tar Pits

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By Duncan Nielsen
Three top architecture firms just revealed new designs for La Brea Tar Pits—including Hancock Park’s 12 acres and the Page Museum, which displays ice age relics found on-site.

Last night, the Natural History Museums of Los Angeles County (NHMLAC) unveiled new designs for La Brea Tar Pits—an archaeological site, museum, and active laboratory that keeps the world’s most complete records of life during the ice age. A community forum at the El Rey Theatre debuted proposals from three competing architecture firms: Dorte Mandrup, Weiss Manfredi, and Diller Scofidio + Renfro.

The aging museum hasn't been touched since it was built over 40 years ago, and it looks forward to an update befitting its stature in the scientific world—and one that engages the greater Los Angeles area.

"We want to preserve and enhance community use of Hancock Park while making the collection more visible to the public, showing science in action, and adding to our visitor amenities," says NHMLAC President and Director Dr. Lori Bettison-Varga. The architecture firms honed in on community access, the preservation of the site's features, and sustainable infrastructure. Have a look below.

Dorte Mandrup

Dorte Mandrup's vision forges a connection between visitors and the site, which is a living laboratory. 

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Copenhagen-based Dorte Mandrup envision the park as one big living laboratory, where visitors can immerse themselves in the story of the Tar Pits. "A visit here should be a journey of curiosity, where sense and imagination are instantly awakened," says the firm's founder and creative director Dorte Mandrup-Poulsen. The design brings attendees closer to the world of natural science, and the firm hopes it will encourage attendees to make new, lasting memories.

A rendering of the museum shows hanging skeletons of ice age-era animalia found on-site. 

Weiss Manfredi

Circular, continuous pathways guide visitors through the park's exhibits, showing them new vantage points of the beautified space.

New York—based Weiss Manfredi's strengths lie at the intersection of architecture and landscape design. Their work, titled La Brea Loops and Lenses, is an infinity-loop pathway that guides visitors through the park, making for one continuous, unbroken experience. Visitors can view framed vignettes of the park from multiple angles as they move along the trail. 

A view inside the museum, which features wooly mammoths and other creatures that roamed the area over 10,000 years ago.

Diller Scofidio + Renfro

Visitors are immersed in the wonderful park,  which sheds light on human impact on the natural environment. 

Diller Scofidio + Renfro's proposal highlights the museum's natural history elements, enhancing visitors' awareness of their role in the living environment. "A revitalized Hancock Park is conceived to be the connective tissue between existing and new institutions, public spaces, and urban infrastructure," they say. 

New finds are harvested daily from the park, which provides new information to the scientific community worldwide. Visitors get an intimate look at that process.

Inside the museum, visitors can peer into an active laboratory, where archaeologists review their findings. 

For those unable to attend last night's forum, the architects’ models, renderings, and drawings are now on display at the Tar Pits and until September 15th. Additional digital versions can be viewed here, and feedback is encouraged. Experts in architecture, landscape design, science, and natural history will help NHMLAC make the final call for the future of the museum.

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