Skirball Fire threatens Getty Center

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Traffic flows south on the 405 freeway, but northbound lanes are closed, December 6, 2017. Photo credit: Saul Gonzalez.

This month marks 20 years since the Getty Center opened.

Jim Crawford is an architect and partner with Richard Meier Partners, designers of the building. He told DnA that in the planning of the building fire safety was paramount. They worked with a team of engineers and fire protection specialists and landscape architects to make sure the plan, the building materials and the landscaping would all contribute to resilience against fire. That included multiple access roads and a ring road around the site so if one route in or out is blocked you’ve got several other options. It also included landscaping designed as a buffer zone so plants with the highest water content are close to the building.

"It's what we call a Type 1 building," Crawford said. "So that's the highest quality of construction. Everything is noncombustible. There's a million gallon water tank that was built into the base of the building so that if they do have trouble with the water supply there is existing supply on site that would help protect the building. And a lot of the building is built out of concrete with the kind of materials that are not flammable. So all of those things help to keep the buildings safe."

The building is made of concrete and protected steel. And it is partly clad in travertine marble, also a fire deterrent.

And last but not least, in past years a herd of goats has been deployed to clear brush on the surrounding hills.

The buildings at the Getty Center are straight and do not have overhangs. DnA was told by a structural engineer that one of the risky design features -- in terms of fire -- in many LA residential buildings is the wooden eaves or overhangs because flying cinders get trapped in them.

Getty spokesman Ron Hartwig told DnA that "the Getty was designed to be the very safest place that our collection could be." This is because of the air filtration and sprinkler systems in combination with the fire resistant construction that was designed to keep the art at the most protected level possible.

As far as the other cultural buildings in the Sepulveda Pass, the Skirball Cultural Center and the American Jewish University are also in the vicinity of the fire. The Skirball, designed by architect Moshe Safdie, is solidly constructed out of poured-in-place concrete. AJU has evacuated and moved their Torah scrolls to the Brandeis-Bardin campus in Simi Valley.

This comes as designers are increasingly interested in building higher rise buildings out of wood. Architects are exploring ways to build with cross-laminated timber structures instead of the traditional concrete and structural steel. They are thicker than usual to allow for charring and have been put through repeated tests.

A twelve-story high rise made of timber is about to be built in Portland, Oregon. But one builder in LA told DnA we are unlikely to see these in LA because the city has such stringent fire regulations, and today we are seeing why.