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$500M Academy Museum Announces Open Date

Thursday, April 1, 2021

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Having reached completion after undergoing a series of historical restorations, renovations and new construction totaling nearly $500 million, the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in Los Angeles has announced that it will be opening to the public on Sept. 30.

The museum and theater complex that took eight years of planning and construction to complete was originally slated to open in December 2020 but was postponed due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Construction and Design

Occupying the Saban Building—formerly the May Company Building—which was built in 1939, the Academy Museum now boasts completed renovations to its interior and iconic gold-leaf cylinder, in addition to a new structure dubbed, “the Sphere.”

Designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Piano's studio Renzo Piano Building Workshop and executive architect Gensler, the new domed structure houses two screening theaters and a glass-sheltered terrace on the roof. The shelter was constructed using 1,500 glass shingles cut into 146 different shapes and sizes by fabricators in Austria.

Reports also describe the Sphere has having a futuristic style, appearing to float above its piazza, like a type of flying saucer.

To construct the 13,000-ton, 40,281-square-foot reinforced concrete structure, structural engineer Buro Happold planned for the Sphere to have a slightly domed and pitched lid, supported by a steel wagon-wheel-like structure topped by a reinforced concrete diaphragm, to avoid what would have been a vastly expensive process to cast a thin-shell concrete lid.

With a define plan, crews from general contractor MATT Construction erected a single shoring tower in the center of the theater to support the wagon wheel, then cast the concrete lid. However, because the structure was unable to be self-supporting until the completion of the lid, shoring was heavily utilized and noted to be one of the biggest challenges faced by MATT, according to Bart Shively, Project Executive, and Mat Evans, Senior Superintendent.

Apart from the lid, the dome’s concrete skin is reported to be made up of 727 precast panels with 578 unique shapes, measuring four inches thick and weighing between one to two tons, each. According to the National Precast Concrete Association, the panels were reinforced using welded wire fabric and were casted from 7,000-psi concrete.

The curved panels were hung by crew members on steel frames, while forms for the interior surface of the dome installed reinforced shotcrete walls, which reportedly double as soundproofing for the auditoriums.

“Installation was quite efficient, one row at a time, with glazing embeds, rebar, electrical, fire protection and shotcrete trades each following behind in lockstep,” said Daniel Hammerman, Project Architect for the Renzo Piano Building Workshop.

Roughly 130 falsework towers supported the Sphere, with load cells on 15 of the towers to monitor any shifts in weight. After shoring was removed, the Sphere reportedly shifted a half-inch to the south and three quarters of an inch down on the southern end, as expected.

In the event of an earthquake, Buro also designed the Sphere to roll base isolators, with two set atop each of its four reinforced concrete columns. In retrofitting the Saban Building, crews drilled 216 micropiles 60 feet into the ground. Two 64-foot-long glass and steel bridges were also constructed to connect the two structures and are designed to pivot with the Sphere during a quake.

The bridges are named after actress Barbra Streisand and entertainment executive Casey Wasserman, respectively.

“They were actually put to the test when we had an earthquake in the summer of 2019, and the bridges worked as intended,” Hammerman added.

In looking at other renovations within the 250,000-square-foot Saban Building, MATT pulled in conservation specialist John Fidler to tackle the historic department store’s exterior, which features an art deco Streamline Modern style. A team headed by Fidler were able to source the same geologic vein and quarry system as the original 1939 Texas Cordova shelly limestone and installed a new waterproofing system to protect it.

To renovate the building’s golden cylinder, the team contacted Venetian glassmaking studio Orsoni, who had crafted the original tiles, and set nearly 200,000 new tiles by hand as to match the building’s curvature. The gold leaf mosaic tiles replace one-third of the 350,000 total tiles.

Inside, concrete was chipped out by crews so that structural connectors tied into the building’s new shear walls could be installed, among other efforts to bring the 80-year-old department store up to 21st century seismic codes.

Of the two theaters located within the Sphere, the David Geffen Theater, named after the founder of Asylum Records and film studio DreamWorks is decorated in red carpet-like tones and hosts 1,000 seats. The Ted Mann Theater, named for the late film producer, is a bit smaller, hosting 288 seats upholstered in a vivid green.

The combined structures also feature an exhibition space, shop, restaurant and an education studio named after Shirley Temple.

Brendan Connell Jr., the Academy’s Chief Operating Officer and General Counsel told Engineering News-Record that MATT substantially completed the complex in the fall of 2019, however, its opening was postponed in response to COVID-19.

The museum has been dedicated to the art and science of filmmaking and will be operated by the Motion Picture Academy, the organization behind the annual Oscars awards ceremony.

“When it opens, the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures will be the world’s premier institution dedicated to the art and science of movies,” the Oscars noted on its site. “Global in outlook and grounded in the unparalleled collections and expertise of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the Academy Museum will offer unparalleled exhibitions and programs illuminating the fascinating world of cinema.

“They will be immersive and dynamic and will tell the many stories of the movies—their art, technology, artists, history, and social impact—through a variety of diverse and engaging voices. The Academy Museum will tell complete stories of moviemaking—celebratory, educational, and sometimes critical or uncomfortable.”


Tagged categories: Architectural history; Architecture; Color + Design; Color + Design; Commercial / Architectural; Commerial/Architectural; Completed projects; Design; Design - Commercial; Historic Preservation; Historic Structures; Museums; Museums; NA; North America; Renovation; Retrofits

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