Redesigning the La Brea Tar Pits Museum: Gui Competition 2019

“This project staked a strong claim about the nature of an institution,” commented Keoni Fleming, Knowlton School Lecturer and Senior Associate at Schooley Caldwell, prior to the announcement of the 2019 Gui Competition winner. “The programming and spatial resolution work—all of the conceptual ideas were carried out in terms of the building design down to the material strategy used on the facade. The comprehensiveness of that treatment was really well done.”

Following comments from the other jurors, Design and Architecture [DnA] podcast host Frances Anderton announced Sydney Strawser, Kristen Perng and Rachel Schmitmeyer for their winning project in the competition held annually in the senior Architecture Design Studio.

This year’s competition prompt was to reconsider the design of the existing La Brea Tar Pits Museum and its adjacent landscape located along Wilshire Boulevard, one of Los Angeles’ major thoroughfares. The program comprised 85,000 sq. ft. divided among public and private operations. The 36,800 sq. ft. of public area included space for exhibits, theaters, classrooms and observation pit viewing platforms. The remaining footage detailed private operations including laboratories, specimen storage and staff offices.

This year’s winning project carved away the museum’s monolithic mass by shearing exterior surfaces to create covered outdoor spaces and points of entry, sculpting the form into a building that accommodates multiple publics. The team also reimagined the facade with a scaled-up image of hot pink travertine.

“A prominent design feature of our building is the path that cuts through the first floor,” stated Schmitmeyer, pointing to the team’s effort to bring both the exhibition spaces and the often unseen research activities into prominence. “By walking through the path, the public is able to experience a part of the museum without having to pay to enter the exhibit.”

“The path that separates public and research amenities also unifies them with glass facades facing along the path,” added Perng. “This creates a visual connection between the two programs and allows for views into the specimen storage and viewing research. These acts of transparency aim to provide visitors with a greater knowledge and appreciation of the research being conducted.”

This year’s competition placed students in project teams, a change from previous years’ single designer projects. Commenting on how this change affected her group’s design approach, Strawser indicated that while her team had similar goals and ideas in terms of the project’s overall concept, they each had different ideas about execution. “Often, we would develop the broad ideas together and each work on iterations for smaller details,” she said. “That seemed to make it easier for us to come together to collaborate our ideas into something we all loved.”

The competition included twelve finalists projects. Rounding out the top prize winners were Emma McMonigal and Marly McNeal (Second Place), Dylan Hart and Pierce Caldwell (Third Place), Yuyan Wang and Courtney Masters (Honorable Mention), and Kate Lubbers and Yunhao Zhong (Honorable Mention).

ABOUT THE JAMES E. GUI '54 DESIGN COMPETITION

On May 3, 1996, the James E. Gui ‘54 Design Competition Awards Fund was approved by The Ohio State University Board of Trustees. The Fund was generously established by Jim and Ann Gui through the OSU Foundation and will exist in perpetuity. This year’s competition marks the 24th annual James E. Gui ‘54 Design Competition. The goal of the competition is to test the skills of students in the senior design studio in designing a project for a complex program on a challenging site. The competition stipulates that the jurors are to consist of three Knowlton School faculty members, a local practitioner and a nationally recognized architect. Kay Bea Jones, professor of architecture, served as the coordinator of the senior design studio and organizer of the competition.

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