Over the summer, the LACMA project team and about 500 craftspeople, engineers, and project partners gathered for a celebratory luncheon with architect Peter Zumthor to mark the “topping out” milestone in the construction of the David Geffen Galleries. The celebration was timed to Zumthor’s visit to the site in July, and happened to be around the architect’s 80th birthday. We chatted with Art Vasconcelos, construction executive at Clark Construction, the general contractor, and Eric Long, partner at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, the structural engineer of record, to learn more about the significance of topping out.
Art: Topping out, which is when you reach the highest point of the building, is significant in the construction trade. It is an important milestone in the construction process, symbolizing progress and a significant step toward the building's completion. It’s an opportunity to bring together everyone that has been involved and celebrate everyone’s hard work. Topping out ceremonies are symbolic, and they’re rooted in a lot of tradition. In a steel building, a tree is placed on the last beam and people sign the beam. In a concrete structure, it’s usually done with a large gathering, like we did with Peter Zumthor and the team.
Eric: Topping out is significant not only for the contractor, but for all of us involved in the project over the years. This moment has been several years in the making, starting from initial design ideas years ago, to developing the final design, to site excavation, foundations, and now the superstructure. It truly is a heroic amount of work that has happened over the years, culminating to building up to the very top. It’s a significant event in that context.
Art: The celebration also gave the workers an opportunity to meet Peter personally. They were really pleased to see Peter’s excitement. Peter has said that the building is a sculpture. Because the work is not going to be covered by drywall or other building materials, the true structure itself will be seen by the public. How pleased Peter is of the work has been a real source of pride for the team.
Eric: This building is also a little different from a typical building. Typically, the roof is a relatively small footprint relative to the whole building and you can “top out” within a short timeframe and mark that moment with a ceremony. At LACMA, we are building the roof one section at a time as we build horizontally across the site and across Wilshire. This topping out is really the beginning of roof pours, which will occur over the next several months.
Art: By the end of this year, you’ll start to see equipment, shoring, and formwork being removed.
Eric: That will mean that all the temporary shoring posts and formwork used to support the casting of the concrete will be removed. The building structure will then be truly revealed.
Art: The building will start to emerge once the formwork is removed, like a butterfly coming out of its cocoon as described by [LACMA COO] Diana Vesga.