Let’s pause for a moment and realize just how surreal the La Brea Tar Pits are: The skeletons of mammoths and saber-toothed cats have been sitting in sticky goop just underneath Los Angeles for tens of thousands of years, and asphalt continues to bubble up above the group as thousands of fossils are stumbled upon underneath Wilshire Boulevard. And all of this is right in the middle of our city.
To continue to capture that excitement, the La Brea Tar Pits is embarking on a transformation of how its presents those paleontological wonders to the public—and today it’s unveiled three potential master plans, and asking for your feedback on them.
Danish firm Dorte Mandrup’s plan looks like a lush, prehistoric playground with a wide wooden boardwalk and conical cages surrounding some of the smaller pits. It makes over the Page Museum into an airier geometric pavilion while still strongly nodding toward the building’s current aesthetic.
Diller Scofidio + Renfro
New York’s Diller Scofidio + Renfro—best known here for their work on the Broad—envision a much sleeker, lower-profile plan with a grid of grassy landscapes. Its museum redesign puts the research aspect at the center, with a glass vault of fossils at the center.
Also hailing from New York, Weiss/Manfredi have proposed a mobius-like loop of walking paths around the park with circular play spaces scattered throughout. Its plan keeps the current museum’s look largely in tact, with an adjacent expansion that hints at a rooftop viewing pavilion.
In all cases, the still-bubbling tar pits themselves won’t really change, of course. But the surrounding area certainly will—especially when coupled with LACMA’s redesign and the under-construction Academy Museum. The Tar Pits’ museum and park space have remained largely unchanged since the Page Museum opened just over four decades ago. While the Natural History Museum manages the 12-acre parcel in which the pits and museum reside, Los Angeles County owns the larger 23-acre Hancock Park (that’s the green space between the Tar Pits and LACMA, not to be confused with the neighborhood of the same name). As county residents, that’s where you come in.
You can view the three plans up close, including models, renderings and drawings, at the La Brea Tar Pits (or online) through September 15. Then based on input from a design and science jury as well as the general public—hey, that’s you; feedback is highly encouraged both on-site and online—a single firm will be chosen to execute the master plan. Though no specific dates are given beyond that, the planning phase could commence “over the next several years.”