La Brea Tar Pits Masterplan Competition, Los Angeles, CA, USA

La Brea Tar Pits and Museum Competition

Location: Los Angeles, CA, USA

Client: Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County

Architect: Dorte Mandrup

Size: 23 acres

Status: completed 2019

Civic and Institutions, Masterplans, Climate Change


MSP teamed with Dorte Mandrup in an international design competition to reimagine the La Brea Tar Pits, consisting of Hancock Park and the Page Museum. Functioning as a beloved park, an active research laboratory, and a robust center for education, the park needed to serve as a nexus for many walks of life. Our design set forth a goal of understanding and revealing the ecology of the La Brea Tar Pit’s past, present, and pressing future. The history of the La Brea Tar Pits is far longer than the creation of Hancock Park or the Page Museum. The tar (asphalt) is a form of petroleum, linked through time to fossil fuels, oil, and climate change. From zooplankton and their transformation into oil, to the ice age, to oil’s extraction from the ground, to the burning and releasing of atmospheric carbon, the history of the La Brea Tar Pits is a History of oil, a history of carbon, and a history of climate change.

Through our design we aim toward a future of mitigation and education. Using the first ever Landscape Architecture Carbon Calculator, we have developed a design strategy that resulted in the park’s ability to sequester all of the carbon released through its construction within five years of its existence, and in the subsequent 45 years, the La Brea Tar Pits will further sequester an additional 9,393 metric tons of carbon, equivalent to the typical size of 18,786 single-family homes. The major mitigation strategy implemented in this design is afforestation, using a method of planting numerous trees as saplings and whips in extremely close proximity to grow denser, faster, and more bio-diverse forest ecosystems. These forest systems, based on the Pleistocene landscape, actively remove atmospheric carbon, the route cause of climate change, and stores it within soils and plant matter.

The park is structured through climate, moving from a Pleistocene forest on the western side of the park, and transitioning to climate-adaptive chaparral and coastal sage scrub landscapes to the east and around the new museum. These landscape types are unified through a system of boardwalks that extend from the Page Museum out to the edges of the park. These boardwalks create an educational corridor that extends the exhibitions of the museum out into the park and provides strong gathering places that are well lit, comfortable, and iconic. Along these boardwalks, the tar pits become outdoor classrooms. Sculptural ‘Discovery Scaffolds,’ made of metal fabric, functionally encircle the individual tar pits, providing separation for safety while also encouraging viewing, sparking imagination, and supporting learning.