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Restoring the Triforium: A Crash-course in City Politics, Art Conservation, Public Outreach, and Historical Research

Posted August 16, 2017 by The Triforium Project

The Triforium Project is a group dedicated to the restoration and revival of an unusual piece of public art in Downtown Los Angeles, The Triforium. Built in 1975, The Triforium was a groundbreaking, technology-driven, interactive musical instrument designed to synchronize light and music in “polyphonoptic" compositions for all to enjoy. Unfortunately, it never quite worked as designed, and suffered a number of technological, financial, and political setbacks over its lifetime. Once a beacon of light, music, and color downtown, it has stood mute and dark for many years.

Because of the large-scale nature of the artwork—six stories!—its interrelated technological components, and the fact that The Triforium is part of the City of Los Angeles' public art collection, progress on restoring the Triforium has not been immediate. This is the nature of the beast.

Still, over the last six months, we've moved from planning conversations to concrete delegations in close partnership with the Department of Cultural Affairs (DCA):

  • DCA is now creating two initial conservator's reports of the Triforium, which we are partially funding with our grant funds, in order to assess the artwork's structural and technological integrity, and the cost of different restoration approaches.
  • While the civic wheels turn, one of the most substantial efforts we've made to support the Department of Cultural Affairs is to systematically digitize huge portions of Triforium artist Joseph Young's paper archive, shared with us by his family. By going through all of Joseph Young's materials and cross-referencing it with press accounts and the technology found in the Control Room, we've been able to put together a chronology of the artwork's life that will be invaluable to the conservator who takes on the final restoration.
  • We've also created a dossier of the archive's most important documents, substantiating our understanding that Joseph Young designed the Triforium to last centuries—and would have been tickled to see its computer system updated with each successive generation.
  • Finally, we created large-format scans of all the Triforium's original blueprints and schematics, which again, will be invaluable to assessing its structural integrity.

While the conservator's report is underway, we have made progress by doubling down on outreach, hosting site visits of the Triforium and its Control Room to interested parties and groups.

  • We've worked with City Council District 14 and the Department of General Services to clean up the Triforium's long-maligned Control Room, clearing it of trash, insects, and dust while installing archival images and information within sight of pedestrians.
  • We've hosted a tour and fundraiser with the Los Angeles Design Festival and created unique Triforium merchandise to raise further funds for the project's long-term goals.
  • We've identified volunteers with expertise in legacy computing, glasswork, and engineering in order to simplify (and save) on future assessments.

The last six months of working towards our goal of a musical, illuminated Triforium have been a crash-course in city politics, art conservation, public outreach, and historical research. Without the support of LA2050, we may well have walked away from this project, feeling daunted by its complex considerations. But the initial support of LA2050 has catalyzed us, legitimized us, and encouraged other funders to get on the Triforium bandwagon. Now the momentum is so great that we can't stop—and we can finally see the Triforium lights on the horizon!

Since January, we've received exciting press coverage that mirrors the excitement and momentum that has built around the Triforium: