The Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, designed by Ladd & Kelsey Architects in 1969, is an award-winning and thought-provoking architectural marvel that houses the institution’s prestigious contemporary art collection. The museum was established to showcase the city’s rich artistic heritage, and at the time, Pasadena was considered a significant contemporary art hub, rivaled only by Lower Manhattan in the United States. The museum was originally known as the Pasadena Art Institute and later renamed the Pasadena Art Museum before it was finally christened the Norton Simon Museum. The structure’s innovative design and use of modernist architectural elements have made it an important cultural landmark in Southern California.
Norton Simon Art Museum Technical Information
- Architects: Thornton Ladd and John Kelsey
- Renovation: Frank Gehry, Arthur Gensler, Jr. & Associates
- Landscape Architect: Nancy Goslee Power
- Location: 411 W. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena, CA 91103, USA
- Material: Umber-colored tiles
- Type: Art Museum
- Area: 500 m2
- Style: Late Modern
- Project Year: 1969
- Photographs: © ArchEyes
It was late in the afternoon and the coppery plum colored shadows on the mountains were repeated in the tile of the museum. It was so exciting– Edith Heath1
Norton Simon Art Museum Photographs
A Late Modern Masterpiece by Ladd & Kelsey Architects
Text by the Ladd and Kelsey Foundation2
The undulating exterior — influenced by Pasadena’s Arts & Crafts tradition, Beaux-Arts City Hall, and streamline and modern design –changes with the light of day. Ladd & Kelsey’s signature white concrete base and white-finished roof crisply contrasted with the blue Southern California sky and green landscape. The curvilinear tiled exterior, a Ladd & Kelsey hallmark, is comprised of 115,000 Edith Heath-designed custom brick red and onyx glazed 5 x 15-inch tiles.
They embrace the palette of the San Gabriel Mountains above the structure, and their mood still changes with the day’s light. For Edith Heath, the project earned her the prestigious AIA Industrial Arts Medal award from the American Institute of Architects in 1971. This was the first time the award was granted to a non-architect.
The avant-garde interior architecture housed equally avant-garde contemporary art. The interior plan was imagined as a series of pavilions by which one crosses glass-enclosed “bridges” with views to nature outside before entering another Pavillion. The interior was designed to be an unconventional space to house unconventional art by the likes of Robert Irwin, Ed Moses, Ed Ruscha, and Ellsworth Kelly, among others.
A debt-laden Pasadena Art Museum was taken over by the industrialist Norton Simon in 1974, leading it to become the Norton Simon Museum. The structure’s original interior architecture was altered in 1977 by Craig Ellwood and largely lost to a 1996-1999 Frank Gehry redesign. The classical modern reflecting pool central to the plan was demolished in 1999 and replaced with an organic landscaping redesign by Nancy Goslee Power.
History of the Museum
Norton Simon died on June 2, 1993. As a tribute to her husband, Jennifer Jones Simon oversaw the major renovation of the interior galleries from 1996-1999 by the noted architect Frank O. Gehry. The sculpture garden was remodeled by Nancy Goslee Power, and the renovation was completed in 2000 when the Museum’s Theater was remodeled by Arthur Gensler, Jr. & Associates.
Norton Simon Art Museum Image Gallery
About Ladd & Kelsey Architects
Ladd & Kelsey Architects was a firm established by Thornton Ladd and John Kelsey in 1959 and operated until 1982. The firm was known for its innovative designs and contributions to the modern architecture movement in Los Angeles. They designed several iconic buildings, including the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s Ahmanson Building.
Other works from Ladd & Kelsey Architects
- The curved exterior walls of the museum are lined with 115,000 vertically stacked umber-colored tiles designed by ceramicist Edith Heath.
- Ladd & Kelsey Foundation