AD Interviews Renzo Piano on His Newly Completed Academy Museum of Motion Pictures

“I love building bridges,” Piano says, pointing to the two bridges that connect the Saban Building and the Geffen Theater at the mezzanine and fifth levels. These features showcase a particularly light touch. The Barbra Streisand Bridge leads to one of the best views in town at the Dolby Family Terrace on top of the Geffen and beneath the rounded glass canopy. The suspended light-flooded passageways and darkened theater spaces throughout, both real and imagined, reinforce what the architect identifies as a leitmotif. “Cinema is about light and shadow,” Piano says. “This idea of the sequence is part of the story.”

While the 1,000-seat Geffen Theater is sumptuously awash in red carpet-inspired crimson hues with seats custom manufactured by Poltrona Frau, the Saban Building interiors take a more stripped down approach. Exposed structural elements help reinforce the curatorial mission to shed light and provide behind-the-scenes insight on all aspects of filmmaking, as well as engage with problematic aspects of its history. However, the destination doesn’t forgo moments of Hollywood glamour. The rotunda room lined with Oscar statuettes from past winners immerses viewers in an evocatively glitzy Art Deco-style setting. (Plus the Oscars Experience allows ticket holders to record their own virtual Oscar winning stage moment.)

The shark used in the iconic movie Jaws hangs from the ceiling of the new museum.

Photo: Joshua White

The Academy Museum is the first institution of its kind to organize a comprehensive agenda of exhibitions, public programming, screenings, and publications to shine a light on the city’s signature industry. “It’s the mother of all art forms because it brings together architecture and set design, costume, music, cinematography, writing, and nearly every creative discipline,” Kulapat Yantrasast of AD100 firm Why Architecture says. From the core multi-level exhibition Stories of Cinema and the various temporary and rotating installations that include a major survey of Hayao Miyazaki, “we didn’t want linear storytelling,” Yantrasast says. Instead, both the physical and multimedia presentations emphasize the collaborative nature of filmmaking while challenging conventional narratives. “We want different viewpoints,” he adds.

The museum’s version of a red carpet greets the visitors.

Photo: Joshua White

As for the eye-catching addition to the Miracle Mile campus, Piano runs through the multiple nicknames that have evolved over the life of the project. There’s the aforementioned flying vessel, as well as a zeppelin and dirigible. These metaphors apply to the power of movies to psychologically transport an audience. The concrete sphere also “has the fragility of a soap bubble,” albeit with a big difference. “This is not going to blow up. I promise,” Piano says. On that note, Piano has one specific request: Just don’t call it the Death Star.

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