The La Brea Tar Pits Are Being Reimagined — And You Can Vote On Their Future

The iconic mammoth statues at the La Brea Tar Pits. (Mario de Lopez, courtesy the La Brea Tar Pits)

The La Brea Tar Pits — and its mammoth statue perpetually trapped in said tar while its long-suffering mammoth family screams helplessly on the banks — are an L.A. icon. But some of that prehistoric anguish vibe may be changing.

Three architectural teams have been selected to reimagine what to do with the entire 12-acre site, which includes the La Brea Tar Pits, the Page Museum, and part of Hancock Park.

Conceptual designs were revealed last night at the El Rey Theatre and feedback from the public is welcome. Important note: these are concepts, not final plans.

The designs are from three firms, two based in New York and the other in Denmark. All aim to create a tighter integration between the park and the museum, while emphasizing the ongoing paleontological research that goes on at the site.

That also means that the designs need to allow for future paleontological digs, wherever they may need to take place.

The larger goal of the designs, according to the Natural History Museum, which oversees the Tar Pits, is to advance both the organization's scientific research and their engagement with the public for the next 50 years.

Check out the plans below — and after you've done that, the Tar Pits have a survey they'd like you to fill out as they make their next decision, so you can let people know what you like, what you hate, and what would lead you to start a hunger strike.

WEISS/MANFREDI (NEW YORK)

Overview of the La Brea Loops and Lenses, creating a triple mobius. (Weiss/Manfredi)

Weiss/Manfredi have one of the most high-concept approaches: "the La Brea Loops and Lenses." Much like the others, they're looking to bridge the gap between the park and the museum, turning them into a continuous experience.

A diagram showing the Weiss/Manfredi loops and lenses layout. (Weiss/Manfredi)

The "loops" are a triple mobius of pathways connecting the site, while the "lenses" are views throughout both the park and the museum.

The new bridge across the La Brea Tar Pits' Lake Pit. (Weiss/Manfredi)

There will be a bridge across the Lake Pit, with the existing pathways rethought to create more logical connections both within the park and to the city. The site also includes play areas around the loop and an entry canopy meant to connect the city and the park.

Inside Weiss/Manfredi's plan for the revamped Page Museum. (Weiss/Manfredi)

They also add a new Pleistocene garden to the existing museum along with new exhibitions, galleries, labs, and visible storage areas.

This New York firm's focus is on combining architecture and landscape, with projects including the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, the Museum of the Earth, and the Olympic Sculpture Park in Seattle. They even have a paleobotanist on their team, as well as L.A.-based Emmy Award-winning designer Karin Fong of Imaginary Forces.

DILLER SCOFIDIO + RENFRO (NEW YORK)

The Diller Scofidio + Renfro masterplan. (Diller Scofidio + Renfro)

Diller Scofidio + Renfro put a major emphasis on how the revamped site will connect with the city at large, while noting that other nearby projects are being developed at the same time but not in a cohesive fashion. The design aims to make it easier for people to walk through, connecting nearby cultural institutions and making it easy to get where you're going from the new nearby Purple Line stop.

The arrival area to the Page Museum in Diller Scofidio + Renfro's plan. (Diller Scofidio + Renfro)

One of the major changes in this design: moving the famed mammoth statues from the Tar Pits, along with the other fiberglass creatures throughout the park, into a permanent exhibit at the museum instead of being part of the exterior experience.

Pathways and landscapes are connected in a grid structure, inspired by the grids used at paleontological dig sites. It also connects the park with the nearby redesigned L.A. County Museum of Art.

They're taking what they describe as a "light touch" approach, filling in spaces they saw as underutilized and reconfiguring what's already there.

Inside Diller Scofidio + Renfro's revamped Page Museum. (Diller Scofidio + Renfro)

Diller Scofidio + Renfro are also placing an emphasis on preparing for a diminishing water supply, seeking to make the park as sustainable as possible and reducing its water needs. They'll blend together different landscapes, with some areas being more arid than others.

This firm said that they wanted to bring more awareness of the geological forces that shape our environment and the natural history right underneath us, breaking through our "urbanized culture."

A publicly accessible dig site in the Diller Scofidio + Renfro plans. (Diller Scofidio + Renfro)

They say that their proposal treats the site as a "perpetual research project" that they can share with the public both inside and outside. They're looking to create what they describe as a symbiotic relationship between the museum, the park, and the city itself.

While the firm is based in New York, this is the closest we're getting to a home team when it comes to designers. They're the same folks who designed the Broad museum. They also did projects include New York City's High Line (turning 1.5 miles of elevated train track into a park), NYC's Shed, and the 35-acre Zaryadye Park — Moscow's first major public park in more than 50 years.

DORTE MANDRUP (COPEHNAGEN)

Dorte Mandrup's vision for the La Brea Tar Pits. (Dorte Mandrup)

Dorte Mandrup's plan focuses on providing direct, visible access from all sides of the park; extending the museum while preserving iconic portions like the Pleistocene frieze that greets visitors; new daylit exhibition spaces; a research core at the center of the building; and a new roof garden.

While keeping the frieze central to the museum, they want to reinterpret it by projecting its image with photovoltaic pixels on the museum's facades. It's meant to represent sustainable energy production as part of the site's green future.

The pathway, meant to inspire a "journey of curiosity," in the Dorte Mandrup plan for the La Brea Tar Pits. (Dorte Mandrup)

The firm said that they want to convert the park and museum to emphasize the "living laboratory" nature of the site, with scientific work still being conducted every day. They aim to turn visits into "a journey of curiosity, where senses and imagination are awakened."

In their plan, they've worked to weave together the park and the museum — the park tells the story of the Tar Pits even before you enter the museum.

Inside Dorte Mandrup's plan for a revamped Page Museum. (Dorte Mandrup)

Named for its founder and creative director, this team is known for a "sensitive yet dynamic approach" to significant cultural sites, according to the Tar Pits' website. They've worked on five UNESCO World Heritage Sites.


The process to choose the firms started in March, with the project announced to the public in June. They expect to announce the winning firm, following public comment and their own decision-making, near the end of the year. Then they plan, design, get more comment from the public, and construct the new version of the Tar Pits over the next several years.

You can find out more about the various plans at TarPits.org. If you want a closer look at the renderings, drawings, and models, you can see everything in person at the La Brea Tar Pits museum while you stop by to see it in its current state. They'll be available for viewing from today through Sept. 15. But change is coming, so check it out before the current design goes extinct.