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Natural History Museum of Los

Angeles County Renovation by

CO Architects

CO Architects continues its restoration, renovation, and

modernization of the venerable Natural History Museum
of Los Angeles County (NHM) with an innovative
expansion and re-imagination of the institution’s North
Campus, which dates back to the 1920s. The $30-million
project’s elements include a redesigned front façade with
entry bridge, pedestrian-friendly terraces and communal
areas, a new two-level car park, and a major landscape
program encompassing 3.5-acres of recovered green
spaces with programmed gardens and outdoor learning
environments. The outdoor garden spaces are created in
collaboration with landscape design firm Mia Lehrer +
Associates. Currently under construction, the North
Campus is set to open 2011/2012, and is overseen by
project manager Cordell Corporation.

Led by CO Architects principal and project director Jorge

de la Cal, AIA, LEED AP, and by associate principal and
senior project designer Fabian Kremkus, AIA, the firm’s
commission to transform NHM into a state-of-the-art,
21st-century museum began in 2006 with the award-
winning renovation and seismic upgrade of the iconic
1913 Building. That recently completed endeavor was the
first phase of an institution-wide metamorphosis—
including the roll-out of major new exhibitions—leading
up to the Museum’s 2013 centennial. CO Architects’ work
on the 1913 Building has been honored with a
Preservation Design Award by the California Preservation
Foundation and a Los Angeles Architectural Award for
Preservation from Los Angeles Business Council.
While changes on the 1913 Building were primarily
invisible—the directive was to retrofit and restore the
Beaux-Arts gem and its infrastructure without affecting its
appearance—CO Architects’ reinvention of NHM’s North
Campus will involve a highly visible transformation of the
façades, ingress and egress points, public areas, and
exhibition spaces. The redesigned North Campus will
enrich the visitor experience, more fully engaging
museum-goers with the exhibitions inside, the green
spaces outside, and the neighborhood overall, as well as
putting an interactive and contextually responsive public
face on the museum.

The Museum’s North-facing front entrance looks toward

busy Exposition Boulevard, and will be easily accessible
by public transportation. According to Metro, the Expo
Park/USC Station on the new Expo Line anticipates a 2011
opening. Redesigned in the 1970s, the façade was set
back from the street. “It was almost Brutalist in nature,
not very inviting,” says de la Cal. To remake the imposing
frontage into a welcoming portal for visitors and an
inviting urban landscape for passersby, CO Architects is
demolishing the concrete terraces that formed the
approach to the museum, and is excavating the entire
North Campus entry area to provide improved access on
two levels.
A prominent feature of NHM’s new “front yard” will be a
pedestrian bridge—arced like the shape of a whalebone—
leading from the sidewalk to the Museum’s first level.
Kremkus had dual inspirations for the bridge design—the
Museum’s notable fin whale skeleton and his native
Frisian Islands in Germany, where retired sea captains
would erect massive whale bones in front of their homes
to indicated their eminence in the community.

CO Architects also graded the building’s front grounds to

smoothly flow into what was formerly the basement level.
Ultimately, programmed indoor and outdoor spaces will
intersect all along the street level, including ticketing,
information facilities, and a new restaurant extending out
to an open-air patio. Further renovations on the
Museum’s south façade include a glass elevator and large
windows in the east exhibition halls—including the ones
that will house the dinosaurs—introducing day lighting
into those galleries for the first time.
Since the master plan involves green space reclaimed
from a former parking lot, CO Architects designed a new
two-story car park—a subterranean and on-grade mesh
structure for 221 vehicles—maintaining the number of
spaces there previously. The flowering vine-topped
facility is sited to minimize impact on pedestrian flow
throughout North Campus, and is designed for maximum
natural light and ventilation. Thick, circular glass bricks
embedded into its floor and walkways will allow daylight
to flow between levels and from outside.

A 12-foot green screen will alert drivers to vehicular

entrances at the north and south ends of the structure,
and resin-cased nature specimens (insects, leaves, etc.)
will delineate parking spaces. “This is one of the ways
people will feel welcomed into the Museum experience
from the minute they enter its grounds, either on foot or
in their cars,” says Kremkus.
Resulting from CO Architects’ re-thinking of the North
Campus is 3.5 acres of outdoor space ripe for educational
programming and “urban wilderness” nature
experiences. The new landscape design by Mia Lehrer +
Associates intends to 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-integrated green spaces will extend
the mission of the Museum, and its reverence for nature,
into the greater Exposition Park area.
Home to centuries of Los Angeles history—as well as
millions of artifacts spanning billions of years—the
Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County is the
centerpiece of Exposition Park. Modernized and restored
for the future, NHM is ready to take on 21st-century
urban life.
In addition to de la Cal and Kremkus, the CO Architects
team includes Ed Martinez, Peter Junru Pan, LEED AP, Lisa
Canoy, and Chao Chen, LEED AP. In addition to Cordell
Corporation and Mia Lehrer + Associates, affiliated firms
include electrical engineers IBE Consulting Engineers,
structural engineers John A. Martin & Associates, and civil
engineers Psomas.
Nationally recognized, Los Angeles-based CO Architects
has a proven expertise in meeting the programmatic,
contextual, and humanistic needs of high-performance,
interdisciplinary buildings and master plans. The firm has
designed major “benchmark” and award-winning facilities
for clients that include the University of California,
Claremont Colleges, Palomar Medical Center West, and
Los Angeles Unified School District. The award-winning
firm is internationally recognized for its specialization in
designing civic, academic, healthcare, research, and
medical education environments.

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