Should a Great Art Museum Be Single-Level?

The proposed single-story design for the new LACMA building, which straddles Wilshire Boulevard.Atelier Peter Zumthor & Partner/LACMA

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This is a little offbeat, but I’m curious about something. The LA County Museum of Art wants to demolish its old buildings and replace them with a single large building. Progress has been slow, of course, and various things have happened to reduce the planned floor space of the new design. The easy answer to this would be to add a second story to the building, but apparently this runs afoul of LACMA director Michael Govan’s aesthetic desires:

“I’m a big believer in horizontal museums,” he said [a few years ago]. “All the great museums for me are horizontal.”

I’m not a big museum person, but I’ve visited plenty of them. The Met has multiple levels. MOMA has multiple levels. The Tate Modern has multiple levels. The Louvre has multiple levels. The Guggenheim in New York has multiple levels (sort of). The Prado has multiple levels. The Hermitage has multiple levels. The Van Gogh and the Rijksmuseum have multiple levels. The Vatican Museums have multiple levels. The National Gallery has multiple levels. The Art Institute of Chicago has multiple levels. The Getty has multiple levels.

I’m actually a little unsure I’ve ever visited a single-level museum. So I’m throwing this out to the hive mind. What is Govan talking about? Why does he think all the great museums are horizontal?

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