I recently ventured to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) to see the new Resnick Pavilion designed by Renzo Piano. As I approached the pavilion from Wilshire Boulevard, I was impressed by how impeccably it seems to mimic the adjacent Broad Contemporary Art Museum (BCAM), another recent LACMA building by Piano. Both structures are clad in travertine slabs, both sport fanlike roofs to allow daylight into the galleries, both are accented with bright red exterior elements — staircases on BCAM and sculptural HVAC equipment on the Resnick Pavilion — and yet the two buildings manifest entirely different takes on museum typology.
Built to showcase the tumultuous, often controversial forms of contemporary art, BCAM unabashedly commands attention from passersby with its massiveness. The Resnick Pavilion, despite sharing many exterior trappings with BCAM, exudes none of its brashness; rather, the new building possesses an understated simplicity. Its compact form, situated away from the busyness of the city street, almost disappears into the background of its Hancock Park neighborhood.
The pavilion's distinction lies, unexpectedly, in its camouflage. What may at first seem a bland building destined for banality (especially when compared to its outgoing counterpart) is, upon closer examination, stunning. In its nearly invisible state, the building becomes a perfect, unobtrusive background for the art it was built to display.
This emphasis on art over architecture carries over into the pavilion's interior. The large main hall is an experience in openness, scale, and light. There are no distracting columns or partitions, and visitors are free to choose their own path through the space. Piano retains a sense of scale in this expansive room through the repetition of small structural details — air grates break up the monotony of the concrete floor, faint columnar forms rise out of the blank white walls, and joists intersect the plate glass windows. And natural light — arguably the most difficult element to integrate into art museums, but one that Piano has mastered — easily enters the gallery through the combined efforts of glazed exterior walls and skylights that span the building's width and protrude above the ceiling line at regular intervals.
Two smaller galleries, equally open in their layouts, flank this main space. Shades regulated by time and weather help shield the sensitive art pieces displayed in these side rooms while allowing some degree of daylighting when conditions permit. The compelling atmosphere of the center pavilion does not translate into these disappointingly dark side halls when the shades are drawn.
With its muted details and minimalist form, the Resnick Pavilion is not a mind-blowing, rule-breaking, jaw-dropping vision. On a Sunday in early October, just one week after the pavilion's grand opening, I seemed to be the only visitor giving the building itself more than a cursory glance.
Displaying a degree of humbleness unusual for an architect of his caliber, Piano has designed a building that actively deflects attention away from itself. Lingering on the patio, however, I could not take my eyes away from its simple form; the Resnick Pavilion may not be gregarious, but it is undeniably captivating.
From Los Angeles,