Will LACMA's new building win over the critics?

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The Los Angeles County Museum of Art is looking to replace four buildings -- three by architect William Pereira and one by Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer -- on its campus and replace them with something very different.

The Pereira buildings, built in 1965, and the 1980s Art of the Americas building would be replaced by what's been described as either a pancake or an inkblot -- a single-story gallery on columns that would extend over Wilshire Boulevard.

That idea has roiled the design and architecture community in Los Angeles. But the project is moving forward and tonight (Wednesday, September 24) there's a public "scoping" meeting at which the public can air questions it would like to have addressed in the Environmental Impact Report that comes next.

LACMA hopes to start construction in 2018 on a new building designed by Swiss architect Peter Zumthor, to replace four existing buildings.

It's a monolithic block clad in dark gray concrete with walls of glass and raised on eight giant legs over the park and across Wilshire Boulevard to land in what is currently a surface parking lot at Spaulding and Wilshire.

The proposed new building would extend 20 to 30 feet above Wilshire, and would be about 200 feet long and 120 feet wide. It will hold a total of 368,000 square feet, compared with 393,000 in the four buildings slated for demolition.

It's estimated to cost anywhere from $600 million and up. The LA County Board of Supervisors has committed $325 million. That includes a municipal bond of $125 million and a second bond issue totaling $200 million for completion, which LACMA has committed to pay over 30 years.

People have likened the building to ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena, the black building on legs that spans the hillside. Others says it's more likely to feel like a freeway overpass. It's being referred to as dark and scary.

"That's not an incidental little breezeway or a walkway crossing over a boulevard. That is a major intervention on a designated scenic highway," said architecture critic Greg Golden.

Golden is a member of the Miracle Mile Residential Association and among those going to a "scoping meeting" tonight at LACMA. He's concerned that the meeting won't permit questions about economic and fiscal issues as well as aesthetic questions.

The project does have supporters, such as LA architect Frank Escher.

"The building is actually extremely interesting. It is a very very restrained, very calm building that I think that is the right kind of building that you need for a building for art," Escher said.

Escher added that at first he preferred the original plan that stayed on the north side of Wilshire. But he feels LACMA is an important-enough institution that it can make a bold architectural and urbanistic statement like crossing over Wilshire.

There are critics who would rather LACMA preserve the buildings that are currently on site. Fans of William Pereira say this is an important work but many of those fans agree that the building has been significantly altered over time.

Photo: A rendering of Peter Zumthor's new wing for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, as it crosses Wilshire Boulevard. © Atelier Peter Zumthor & Partner