My Vision For The World’s Greatest Movie Museum

by Renzo Piano

Renzo Piano recently discussed his design ideas with the Academy in a personal interview, excerpted below.

Every building has a special emotion. Architecture is the art of creating that emotion.

With that in mind, I’d like to share what inspired my design of the upcoming Academy Museum of Motion Pictures.

Moviemaking and architecture are similar —both are art forms that tell stories.

Architecture tells a story because places and people tell stories. In some ways, it’s a portrait of the people, of a community. It satisfies a need, but it also satisfies desires, dreams and expectations.

When you make a concert hall, it’s about sound and music, but it’s also about being together.

Have you noticed when you’re at a great concert hall, you have people listening to the same thing, sharing the same joy, the same values, and enjoying being together?

Places have a story to tell. You just have to listen.

Renzo Piano
The story the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures will tell is unique because a museum for cinema is different than a traditional museum.

Cinema is still living, it’s still moving.

You can make a museum for Picasso — and I love Picasso — but Picasso is finished. Done. What’s there is there.

But cinema is always changing. It’s a living art.

In designing this building, I kept in mind that for the next century to come, at least, cinema will continue to change.

This museum won’t be just about the past. It will also be about the future.

My inspiration comes from so many things. Discussions with the client, desires, expectations, the site, teamwork.

There’s something magical in teamwork because with good teamwork, you don’t really keep track of who came up with what.

But of course, for the Academy Museum it all begins with the cinema. How can you escape that?

Movies are inspiring. It’s like traveling to a different world — it takes you somewhere else.

Cinema is a combination of so many things: sound, music, action, photography, storytelling, technology, and science.

It is about science and art. And all of that will be reflected in the architecture of this building.

The two buildings, the existing May Company and the new theater, are connected by bridges and every time you pass those bridges you move from one world to the other — from old to new and from shadow to light.

That’s part of the experience.

You move up and down in the building by using what we call The Spine. It’s a vertical slice where you have elevators, escalators, and stairs.

You have movement.

A movie is about movement and the museum will have people moving up and down in this vertical spine.

It will be like a metropolis.

Making a building is fine, and making a public building is even better.

Making a building for art and science is even more interesting because art and beauty make us better people.

They put a little extra light in the eyes of people — spark desires, expectation, curiosity — and of course, making a building for art makes a city a better place to be and to live.

The Academy Museum will be a new destination in Los Angeles.

We knew this site very well for a long time, and when you walk around Wilshire Boulevard and Fairfax, it’s an inspiring place.

When I first came here a long time ago to the May Company building, I’d been told this is a historical building.

It’s funny, because I’m Italian, so for me history is 2,000 years — this building was built in 1938. I was made in 1937!

But it’s historical because the May Company building provides a sense of Los Angeles — everybody had been in this building back when it was the department store.

This building is quite interesting. It’s very simple, nice curve, beautiful. It is also the beginning of the Miracle Mile.

You have this piece of history, while at the same time we will have the new movie theater on the north end. A movie theater that floats above ground
because we want to make a public piazza underneath.

We will be accessible. Open. We won’t be intimidating.

People must be free to come and enjoy, and to play under the movie theater.

Above the movie theater, we will have the terrace overlooking Los Angeles. Not just a terrace for a party, but a place of exploration. It will be part of the museum.

Architecture is a complex job, but this project has brought with it a true sense of discovery.

It’s an opportunity to celebrate the art of making movies and share the sense of wonder inspired by this beautiful art that is still alive, still changing.

I look forward to the day people can come and experience this living art.

Pritzker-Prize winning architect Renzo Piano was born in Genoa, Italy in 1937 into a family of builders. Established in 1981, the Renzo Piano Building Workshop (RPBW) has designed buildings all around the world including the Menil Collection in Houston, the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas, the Morgan Library in New York, the New York Times headquarters, the Modern Wing of the Art Institute of Chicago, the expansion of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York.

The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures will be built at the corner of Wilshire Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue on Museum Row in Los Angeles. Designed by Renzo Piano, the Museum will restore the historic Wilshire May Company building and feature six stories of immersive exhibition spaces, theaters, education studios, special event spaces and conservation areas, as well as a café and store. Connected to the May Company building will be a soaring spherical addition comprising a state-of-the-art 1,000-seat premiere theater and a spectacular rooftop terrace.

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