Berggruen Institute
Los Angeles, California, USA
Project 2015-

A Program in Line with Historic References

Founded in 2010, the mission of the Berggruen Institute is to study and apply new ideas to the workings of social, economic, and political institutions. The Institute’s programs represent various disciplines, largely from the humanities and social sciences, most importantly philosophy, political theory, political science, law, anthropology, and linguistics. The Institute funds scholars, organizes academic workshops, and supports lecture series. These activities currently take place on campuses around the world. In May 2016, the Berggruen Institute announced the decision to consolidate its activities in a new campus in Los Angeles, at a site in the eastern portion of the Santa Monica Mountains near Topanga Canyon State Park, in recognition of the forward-looking, entrepreneurial spirit and profound connection to the natural world that are ingrained in Southern California.


Herzog & de Meuron were appointed as the architects for the new facility after an intense phase of conversations with various architects around the world, visits to their buildings, and meetings with their clients.


The Berggruen Institute requires an inspirational setting for research and study, a framework which fosters the exchange of ideas and knowledge and provides the opportunity to live in a shared environment. Spaces for individual study and venues for seminars, symposiums, and workshops are combined with living quarters for fellows, academics, and other thought leaders. Additional temporary accommodations are provided for visiting participants at the Institute’s academic workshops. Some of the staff of the Institute will also work on the new premises.


The new Institute building must strike a careful balance between the needs of the individual and those of the collective; it must allow for the quiet routine of the everyday to coexist with the requirements of larger gatherings. A compelling reference is found in monastic architecture. Since ancient times, monasteries have been places for individual study and reflection as well as group exchange and gathering. In line with such scholastic tradition, the program incorporates the natural surroundings. The Southern California climate makes it possible to provide spaces for exchange both indoors and outdoors, accommodating small, concentrated study groups as well as large symposia.



Two Ridges of Deceptively Unspoiled Natural Beauty

With this diverse program in mind, the Berggruen Institute has acquired a significant 450 acre plot of land in the Santa Monica Mountains above the City of Los Angeles.


The site is largely defined by the pronounced topography of two long mountain ridges that flank a steep canyon with native Southern California vegetation. At first sight, the place feels untouched but the crest of the eastern ridge has actually been scraped and flattened, a cut-and-fill operation carried out in the 1980s in order to cap a landfill active since the 1970s.

Vegetation has colonized the former landfill, concealing its past. At their peak, the ridges rise to an altitude of 1,700 feet, offering magnificent panoramas of the Santa Monica Mountains, the Los Angeles metropolis, and the Pacific Ocean.


In the larger context of Los Angeles, the site lies within a corridor of cultural and academic institutions including the Getty Center, Mount St. Mary’s University, the Skirball Cultural Center, and the American Jewish University. The Berggruen Institute’s closest neighbors are a golf course and the residential community of Mountain Gate. The current entitlement allows for 29 residences to be built on the property.


Architecture and Landscape – an Intricate Bond

The Berggruen Institute is a landscape vision as much as it is an architectural project. Crucially, to minimize its impact, the project will be built where feasible only on land that has already been modified. The flattened and scraped eastern ridge will be transformed into an elongated park—a gardened plinth, surrounded by a retaining wall and clearly distinguished from the dry, untended vegetation around it. The gardens are self-sustaining; drought-resistant vegetation is coupled with water collection, cleaning, and re-use. Water management becomes a tangible part of the garden experience, similar to historical predecessors, like the Alhambra in Granada, Spain.


The linear park will house three salient features of the Institute campus: the Institute Building, the Scholar Village, and the Chairman’s Residence.


A sense of transition from one place to another is underscored by the long winding road that already existed. It leads up to the eastern ridge from the heavily trafficked Sepulveda Boulevard down in the valley.


Half-sunken earthen walls structure the ridge, becoming inhabitable at the Scholar Village. Fellows with families as well as short-term visiting scholars live here in single-story courtyard buildings. From a distance the village disappears from view within the gardened plinth. Beyond a narrow saddle and as a terminus to the campus, the Chairman’s Residence is situated north of the Scholar Village in a garden of its own. Like the Scholar Village, the house consists of inhabitable earthen walls beneath a slender, deeply cantilevered roof. It encompasses living quarters combined with large open spaces for entertaining indoors and outdoors.


The Institute Building on the opposite, southern end of the ridge is a rectangular concrete frame supported by just a few elements so that it appears to be hovering above the steep topography. The building encloses a garden that offers unobstructed views all around of the city, the mountains, and the ocean beyond.


Inside the concrete frame, wooden walls and ceilings are inserted to house both the private and communal functions of the Institute. Covered and shaded areas in between are used for outdoor study and exchange. In line with monastic tradition, the majority of the fellows study, convene, share meals, and sleep within the Institute Building.


Two spheres complement the rectangular frame of the Institute: the smaller one is a water reservoir, the larger one houses the lecture hall. The latter lies on the topography and leans against the frame in one corner of the courtyard. It is split horizontally into a bowl and a dome with glazing in between that allows for views out and light in. The smaller sphere of the water reservoir—a key component of the Institute’s self-sustaining ecosystem—rests on top of the frame at the entrance to the courtyard. The spheres both physically and symbolically represent the socio-cultural and ecological ambitions of the Institute.

Herzog & de Meuron, 2017


Herzog & de Meuron Team:
Partners: Jacques Herzog, Pierre de Meuron, Christine Binswanger (Partner in Charge)

Project Team: Simon Demeuse (Associate, Project Director), Santiago Espitia (Associate, Project Manager), Michel Frei (Associate, Project Manager)

Emmanuelle Agustoni , Jeanne Autran-Edorh, Tiago Baldaque da Silva, Paolo Catrambone, Augustin Clément, Ryan Cole, Casper Dam, Kathleen Dolphin, Joshua Ehrlich, Niklas Erlewein, Gwendoline Eveillard, Laura Gonzalez Alastuey, Ciáran Grogan, Jorge Guerra, Duyi Han, Yungi Jung, Vasileios Kalisperakis (Visualisations), Ewa Kaszuba, Pawel Krzeminski (Associate), Dan Ladyman, Christophe Leblond, Sahng O Lee (Designl Technologies), Dulcineia Neves dos Santos, Raneen Nosh, Cristian Oprea, Albert Palazon, Gonzalo Peña, Pedro Peña Jurado, Romain Péquin, Piercarlo Quecchia , Alexander Reichert (Associate), Sandra Sarkunaite, Hugh Scott Moncrieff, Elisa Siffredi, Christian Szalay, Carlos Tolosa Tejedor, João Filipe Varandas, Louie Weiss, Finn Wilkie.



Monteverdi, LLC, New York, NY, USA

Client Representative:
Paratus Group



Executive Architect: Gensler, Los Angeles, CA, USA
Structural Engineering: Nabih Youssef Associates, Los Angeles, CA, USA, Robert Silman Associates, New York, NY, USA
Civil Engineer (CO): Psomas, Los Angeles, CA, USA
Civil Engineer (SD): KPFF, Los Angeles, CA, USA
Geotechnical Engineer: Leighton & Associates, Inc., Santa Clarita, CA, USA
Landscape Architect: Michel Desvigne Paysagist, Paris, France
MEP Engineer: Arup North America, Los Angeles, CA, USA



Acoustics: Harvey Marshall Berling Associates, New York, NY, USA
Facade Engineering: Knippers Helbig Inc., New York, NY, USA
Lighting Consultant: Buro Happold Engineering, New York, NY, USA
Sustainability Consultant: Transsolar, New York, NY, USA
Traffic Consultant: Linscott, Law & Greenspan, Engineers, Pasadena, CA, USA
Community Outreach: Burns & Bouchard, Los Angeles, CA, USA
Construction Manager (Pre-con): Plant Construction LP, San Francisco, CA, USA
Cost Estimator: Stuart-Lynn Company, New York, NY, USA
EIR Biology: Dudek, Encinitas, CA, USA
Environmental Impact Report: Eyestone-Jones Environmental, Los Angeles, CA, USA
Fire Life Safety: Simpson Gumpertz & Heger, Los Angeles, CA, USA

Land Use: Handelman Consulting, Encino, CA, USA
Craig Lawson & Co., Los Angeles, CA, USA
Land Use Attorney: Alston & Bird, Los Angeles, CA, USA
Methane: Geosyntec, San Diego, CA, USA
Survey: Tala Associates, Los Angeles, CA, USA
KPFF, Los Angeles, CA, USA
Vertical Transport: Syska Hennessy Group, Culver City, CA, USA


Building Data:
Site Area: 20,053,122 sqft / 1,862,995 m²
Gross Floor Area (GFA): 220,500 sqft / 20,485 m²

Institute Buildings: 137,000 sqft / 12,727 m²
Scholar Village: 26,000 sqft / 2,451 m²
Chairman's Residence: 26,000 sqft / 2,415 m²
Gatehouse & Amenities: 6,500 sqft / 604 m²
Ridge II: 25,000 sqft / 2,322 m²



Herzog & de Meuron.
In: Luis Fernández-Galiano (Ed.). Arquitectura Viva Proyectos. Vol. No. 089, Madrid, Arquitectura Viva SL, 2018. pp. 24-27.


Berggrunen Institute, Los Angeles.
In: Nicola Di Battista (Ed.). Domus. La Città dell'Uomo. Vol. No. 1017, Milan, Editoriale Domus, 10.2017. pp. 36-39.