Dorte Mandrup La Brea
  • Name

    La Brea Tar Pits

  • Type

  • Client

    The Natural History Museums of Los Angeles County

In the centre of the City of Angels, bubbling pits of tar work as gateways into the history and legacy of our planet. Since the early 1900s everything from Saber-toothed cats to tiny bird beaks have been pulled out of the sticky asphalt, revealing spectacular species that lived on the planet long before us. The La Brea Tar Pits is a remarkable place and we want to amplify this uniqueness by creating an experience that reflects the living laboratory this place truly is.

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As we develop the La Brea Tar Pits, Hancock Park, and the Page Museum for a new generation, we must remember not only the past 50 years of site activity but also the thousands of years of industrial and ecological development that has led to the uniqueness of this site. We wish to create a space which will help us to discover this past, understand the present and protect the pressing future.

Exhibition and Research Intertwined
In our envisioned future of the La Brea Tar Pits visitors are quite literally invited into the world of science. Research activities are an integrated part of the new, daylit exhibition spaces, and in the centre of the building, a research core winds up. The core is a semi-transparent inner tower, which invites curious visitors to catch a glimpse of the work behind the impressive collection. An undulating floorplate ensures that the new exhibition spaces have different floor-to-ceiling heights, and a forest of photovoltaic trees offers shade on hot days on the roof. The rooftop forest is accompanied by a new Pleistocene Roof Garden and a Tar Bar, creating a new, relaxed meeting place in the middle of buzzing Los Angeles.

Our proposed extension to the Page Museum builds on the existing characteristics making this an iconic place. To preserve the use and the memory attached to the site while at the same time creating new ones, we propose to keep the simple and clear rectangular footprint with the geometric halo floating above the landscape and interpret the frieze that tells the narrative of the Pleistocene in a new façade made of small solar pixels.

Bringing back the Pleistocene
It is important that the park and museum are functional and fun. Our proposal is a perfect mix of the practical solutions that the park demands and the creative solutions that will capture imaginations and create curiosity. Hancock Park is already serving a large community and we would like to build upon the many great things happening here. We do this, by adding an array of new community spaces, including playgrounds, outdoor classrooms, a dog run, forest trails, a variety of seating areas, a hammock grove, and a new multifunctional chaparral terrace. These activities are organized in spaces surrounded by a thicker density of trees providing abundant dappled shade amongst the sunlit lawns, gardens, and recreational spaces. In this way, the park to be enjoyed for longer parts of the summer when the Californian sun is burning.

A new boardwalk runs from east to west from the Page Museum across the park to Michael Heizer’s Levitated Mass. Surrounding the boardwalk a Pleistocene landscape will introduce the visitors to endemic plants of the area. It will be composed of four major plant communities: coastal sage scrub, riparian, chaparral, and mixed evergreen/redwood forest. In lieu of annual and perennial flowers, which offer little carbon storage capacity, we have opted for a large palette of wood shrubs and grasses at the ground plane to maximize the carbon captured and stored in the landscape.

Pointing towards a better future
We believe there is an incredible opportunity for the project to become a living sustainability laboratory, teaching us how to protect the future by exploring the past. By designing the project to exist in harmony with the natural environment and implementing regenerative features, the educational mission of the La Brea Tar Pits and Page Museum can be expanded to include environmental sustainability.

In our proposal, we aim to “close the loop” to the extent practical for energy and water and focus on outdoor thermal comfort and overall resilience of the project.

You can read more about our proposal here, and download additional information here

To unfold the story hidden in the tar pits, we interweave, extend and open the park and museum, carrying the Page Museum into the future and significantly increasing the valuable green space of Hancock Park.
The existing building is opened up to the park with slits in the landscape that gives light in and views outwards. Above, a Pleistocene mural appears in solar pixels.
A visit here should be a journey of curiosity where your senses and imagination are awakened, from the moment you step into the park.
Inside the museum, a semi-transparent tower creates a window into the world of natural science and invites curious visitors to catch a glimpse of the work behind the impressive collection.