The Broad by Diller, Scofidio + Renfro

Yesterday, billionaire philanthropist Eli Broad unveiled the schematic design for the Broad Art Foundation Museum alongside design architect Elizabeth Diller. The museum will live in downtown LA, situated between the Walt Disney Concert Hall and the Museum of Contemporary Art. Since the news broke, I’ve seen a few words that I’d like to highlight by briefly talking about each: anticipation, sponge, veil and dimple.

Anticipation. The release of the design has been greeted with a level of excitement bordering onhullabaloo, and for good reasons: this building is on a financial and spatial scale that architects have missed since the recession started (incidentally, architecture billings are up to levels unseen since 2007) but it’s also exciting because Diller, Scofidio + Renfro (DS+R) has a small crop of completed buildings from a much larger field of exciting conceptual work. You may remember the giant, inhabitable balloon that DS+R proposed for the Hirshhorn museum, or you may have read about unfortunate sparring between partners that has undoubtedly been a distraction for the firm. Gladly, the Broad design refocuses interest on the firm’s design work.

Sponge. LA Times architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne was interviewed on Which Way, LA last night, where he reiterated concerns from his article: that the revealed version of the design lacks some of the compelling concepts that won DS+R the commission (winning over firms like SANAA, OMA, Herzog & de Meuron, etc.) Specifically, Hawthorne laments removed moments of confrontation between LA’s car culture and pedestrian culture as well as missing digital programming. I think one explanation (other than dollars) for the removing of the huge, digital screens that would cover the sides of the building could be explained by Liz Diller talking about the dialogue between the Broad and the Walt Disney concert hall: “As opposed to Disney Hall’s smooth and shiny exterior that reflects light, The Broad will be porous and absorptive, channeling light into its public spaces and galleries.” If the project is conceived as one that channels energy from the surrounding inward, covering the sides with over-sized digital billboards that broadcast out to cars may actually be a missed opportunity. DS+R’s overhaul of the Lincoln Center utilizes digital displays in a more pedestrian-oriented way, and displays at a similar scale may make more sense for the Broad, an urban-scaled museum trying to engage both drivers and pedestrian.

Veil. The most embedded concept, and most obviously feature of the design is the urban-scaled veil. The veil contrasts a dense and insular vault that houses artwork in the collection that are not on display. The veil will be pre-cast concrete spanning 24′ feet over the roof of the vault for nearly an acre without columns, creating a flexible, sky-lit gallery. (Sound familiar?) Diller has described the veil as an “airy, cellular exoskeleton structure” that will “play a role in the urbanization of Grand Avenue by activating two-way views that connect the museum and the street.” In this sense, the veil is an animated, living organism that presents to the public one of the most astounding collections of contemporary art.

Dimple. Disturbances in the geometry of the veil have different purposes and names. The veil lifts at the entry of the museum to welcome visitors and one of the more prominent disturbances is the “dimple” along Grand Avenue (which begs for the disturbance along 2nd street to be called the pimple, if you ask me.) But these warps are not blemishes; they break up what could be a monotonous or monolithic exterior and broadcast the contemporary attitude of the museum through these exaggerated idiosyncrasies. It’s not dreary functionalism, but a vault wearing a jovial dress.

Of course, the design continues to evolve, and only time will unveil how the design changes as it matures into a realized work, and once it’s realized, how the public responds.


January 10, 2011