Famed Architects to Finally Create Movie Museum in L.A.

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Courtesy of California Library

The May Company building in Los Angeles.

The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences has been trying to build a museum dedicated to movies for decades. Now one seems to finally be in the works: The Academy announced this week that they’ve signed on big-name architects and plan to redo a Los Angeles historic landmark.

While the Academy’s search for a suitable location for its first museum ended up stopping close to the group’s roots—they chose the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s Art Deco building at Wilshire Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue—the hunt for an architect to redesign the space took them first to Culver City, Calif., and then to Italy. They’ve hired local, yet still well known, architect Zoltan Pali and paired him with Pritzker Prize-winner Renzo Piano to help create the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures.

Both men know museums and performing arts venues. Pali has already restored the Greek Theatre, the Gibson Amphitheatre and the Pantages Theatre in Los Angeles. Piano has helped create the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, the Central St. Giles Court in London, the Menil Collection in Houston and the New York Times headquarters. He knows L.A., too, with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art expansion to his name, a building that sits next door to the Academy’s newfound museum home.

(MORE: 10 Questions for Renzo Piano)

The new museum site—originally designed by Albert C. Martin and S.A. Marx—is also known as the May Company building, as it housed that department store from 1939 to 1993. It opened the same year Gone With the Wind and the Wizard of Oz were released. Since 1993, the Museum of Art Group has owned the building, but never had a real use for it. The L.A.-based group had previously hired Pali’s spf:architects firm to create a plan for the interior of the space, but when the Academy agreed to lease it, they added Renzo Piano Building Workshop, putting two architects—who have known each other for years, but have never worked together on the same project—together for their first collaboration.

The pair plans to work in unison to recreate the interior of the space inside the 325,000-square-foot building, but leave the exterior façade of the historic landmark structure in tact. The architects know they need to create a space where exhibition designers can concoct experiences for visitors, not simply a building that can house memories.

“We as architects make buildings that are portraits that represent our clients,” says Piano, who, like the building, was born in the 1930s. “The Academy Museum will take the visitor through the back door of cinema, behind the curtain, and into moviemaking magic.”

With the announcement of the agreement coming this week, there’s still plenty of fundraising and planning to do before the museum opens, hopefully in early 2016.

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