Amid California Blaze, the Getty Center Remains Unscathed

As fires rage across the Los Angeles area this week, museum officials confirm the Richard Meier–designed complex is unharmed.

Courtesy Scott Frances

All eyes are on Southern California as unprecedented wildfires have blazed through the area, consuming some 100,000 acres and threatening thousands of homes. The inferno, fueled by tinder-dry vegetation and powerful Santa Ana gusts, have hit Los Angeles neighborhoods with particular fury. One blaze, called the Skirball Fire by fire department officials, appeared yesterday to come dangerously close to the city’s Getty Center, which houses one of the world’s most extensive collections of art. Locals took to Twitter yesterday posting apocalyptic images of the blaze raging along the hills that flank Interstate 405. “Los Angeles near the Getty Center looks like Mordor right now,” one journalist tweeted.


The Getty and the nearby Skirball Cultural Center, both located on the west side of the 405, closed their facilities, anticipating the worst. The Skirball announced today via Twitter that it had not sustained damages.

The Getty also confirmed with Metropolis that its Richard Meier-designed facilities are unscathed. “No damage to the buildings, grounds or collection. The fire has moved away from us. We hope for the best for our neighbors today, but we are fine,” a spokesperson said in an email.

Good fortune aside, the Getty complex was designed to be prepared for such natural disasters, according to architect James Crawford, who oversaw the project’s construction in the mid-1990s for Richard Meier & Partners.

“In California, we have fires and we have earthquakes, and in the planning stages of a project, it’s really important to account for the safety for the occupants and the security of the building itself,” Crawford said when reached by phone in Los Angeles.  “That was a paramount consideration right from the beginning.”

Some of the most important features, according to Crawford, are embedded into the Getty’s hilltop site. The design team, working extensively with fire consultants, incorporated four different approach roads so that emergency personnel could access the complex from various points in the event of road closures. As an extra precaution, the architects added a helipad on the roof to allow fire departments to douse flames aerially.

Another crucial feature of the site, says Crawford, is a landscape whose plantings serve as an additional buffer between the building and the surrounding ridged topography. “The goal was to have this project look like it was naturally sitting into the terrain of Southern California, but we selected plant materials that have a higher water content and used them within 100 feet of the building,” he explains.

The Getty complex itself was built according to the most stringent fire-proofing standards. It features concrete construction, ventilation systems designed to divert smoke and dust, and also includes a million-gallon water storage tank, which in the event of a blaze, says Crawford, “will give you a significant reservoir, even if water cut off.” Now that the winds have shifted, Crawford hopes his building will have to simply contend with the “dusty nuisance” created by soot and ash.

As to the extent of the rest of the blaze, still with no end in sight, he says, “It’s a real disaster.”

Courtesy Scott Frances

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