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Renzo Piano Comes to Hollywood: 5 Things We Learned About the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures

The creators of the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures revealed their architectural and cultural visions for uniting L.A.

A rendering of the Academy’s piazza exterior

Renowned architect Renzo Piano and Academy Museum of Motion Pictures Director Kerry Brougher gathered for a lively Q&A at the Academy’s Goldwyn Theater, hosted by Academy governor Laura Dern.

After Thursday’s announcement that the Academy Museum had passed $300 million in fundraising (about 80 percent of their goal, thanks to recent contributions from Bloomberg, Netflix, and the family foundations of Charles V. Roven and Thomas Spiegel), the discussion provided an overview of the architectural design and cultural vision for the museum, under construction at the corner of Fairfax and Wilshire, and scheduled to open in 2019. The museum, which celebrates Hollywood’s past, present, and future, consists of the six-story, 300,000 square-foot Saban building (formerly the legendary May Co. department store) and an adjoining 1,000-seat spherical theater.

Academy Museum, fourth floor.

Uniting the Past and Future

“The museum is a place of life for the community, like a factory,” said Piano, “somewhere between memory and invention. It’s about the past, it’s about the future, and it’s also about society.”

Piano called the Saban and its adjoining giant white spherical theater as “a beautiful old lady” and “a gentle monster.” Together, his hope is that they will galvanize movie lovers, and attract up to 5,000 people on a Saturday. “When you are in the Saban building and you look north at the sphere theater, you see people moving against the light…and it’s like a little town,” added Piano.

The construction workers continue to build the piazza’s massive dome.

Why a Sphere?

“Why not?” asked Piano, who was drawn to the openness, simplicity, and a sense of the organic. “The reason why we did it this way was because this space is good for emotion, for history, and it’s good for the future. And the presence of this in the city is…absurd. The idea that you embark and take off.”

A rendering of the lobby inside what is now the museum’s Saban building.

Flexible and Permanent

“What Renzo has given us,” said Brougher, “is this great, flexible gallery space for both permanent and temporary exhibitions, a terrace to look out over Hollywood, an education center, a wonderful lobby with places to sit and discuss about movies, and an Oscar experience in the museum, in which you’ll be able to go through the history of the Academy Awards and get your own Oscar. And then, most importantly, perhaps, two movie theaters. This major theater, fully equipped with 35, 70mm, laser projection, and, also, with the ability to show nitrate.”

Dolby Terrace rendering.

Time and Horizontal Space

“While there’s a permanent exhibition space on [floors] two and three, which will be the actual story of moviemaking, on the fourth floor, is a temporary exhibition space, so we’re going to be dealing with exhibitions of directors, thematic exhibitions,” Brougher said. “And I think in our time it’s very important to deal with social and cultural issues in terms of what cinema has actually taken on. But the thing about a museum is that it isn’t vertical and things don’t happen all at once. It’s horizontal, it happens in time.”

An official rendering of the Academy’s 1,000-seat theater.

Making Better People

“The most important thing is that you meet other people and stay together,” said Piano. “And this is the beginning of something magic that is called ‘urbanism.’ For me, architecture is, of course, the art of making well-crafted buildings, for sure, but it’s also the art of making better people. So this is something that I believe cinema will do. Instead of being sure of yourself, you become more subtle and curious, and curiosity is the culture of life. So that is the reason why you build a building like this for the ages. You make it for 5,000 years. Why not in Los Angeles?

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