Academy Museum Switches Builders for Construction of Final 'Sphere' Phase (Exclusive)

MATT Construction has won a bid to construct the sphere that will be the signature architectural aspect of the long-gestating museum, and is set to get to work on June 1.
©Renzo Piano Building Workshop/©A.M.P.A.S.
A rendering of the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures

The long-awaited Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, which is due to open in early 2019 on the site of the former May Co. Streamline Moderne building at the corner of Wilshire Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue, is about to enter its next and final phase of construction, The Hollywood Reporter has learned.

On June 1, MATT Construction, which specializes in complex projects and which won a bid on March 22, will begin overseeing the construction of a spherical building designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano — the signature architectural component of the new museum — while the firm of Morley + Taslimi, which began the project last year, will move to a supporting role.

In March 2016, Morley + Taslimi began demolishing the department store's rear wing in order to create space for the "the sphere," a large globe-like structure, held aloft by plinths, which will house a 1,000-seat theater (to be called the David Geffen Theatre) and, above it, a glass-surrounded but not fully enclosed event space covered by a glass dome (which will be known as the Dolby Terrace).

The firm also excavated beneath the remaining part of the existing building — most of which was built in 1939, but the rear wing of which was added in 1946 — in order to earthquake-reinforce it, create new underground spaces and renovate the existing floors, which will house the museum's galleries.

On June 1, MATT Construction will begin overseeing the creation of the sphere itself and also an education center and 288-seat theater in the basement (which will be called the Tedd Mann Theatre). MATT will be supported in the homestretch by Morley + Taslimi, which will continue to handle the project's concrete work, and by a German contractor that specializes in glasswork, which will construct the sphere's temperature-controlled glass dome, as well as a floor-to-ceiling "curtain wall of glass" for the back side of the former May Co. building that will make the sphere visible from inside.

"Nobody's ever done this before," says Rich Cherry, who recently left his position as deputy director of The Broad to become the Academy Museum's COO. "But Paul Matt [MATT Construction's chairman] is a very experienced hand in the culture field and has been involved in almost every major Los Angeles cultural construction project where the building is not conventional," including the Broad, the Skirball Cultural Center and the California Science Center's new wing that houses the Space Shuttle Endeavour. "They're a lot more experienced with things where there are unknowns at the start."

The overall museum, which is projected to cost nearly $400 million, is tracking behind its original schedule — its projected completion date was originally set for mid-2017, then was pushed back to 2018 and most recently was delayed until early 2019 — in part because of revisions to the original design. For instance, the Ted Mann Theatre originally was to be in then former May Co. Building, but was subsequently moved below ground. And the David Geffen Theatre originally was to seat just 655, but space for 345 more seats was found.

To support the museum, the Academy launched a $300 million capital campaign in 2012, later raising the goal to $388 million, with includes $50 million for exhibitions and programming.

"These kinds of projects evolve, to a certain extent, because the design architect is just drawing a sketch on paper at the beginning," Cherry says. "We always knew that this would be a difficult build." As for the remaining work, he volunteers, "The big challenge on this one is going to be the glass structure, because it's just intrinsically hard — there are so many different pieces to it, the subcontractor is out of Germany, it's difficult work to do and a lot of different things have to be coordinated without the cost going up and keeping it on schedule." But, Cherry insists, he is confident that the project is on track: "These guys are working 24/7 to make this stuff happen."