by Nadezna SiganporiaDec 08, 2020
When your neighbour is the iconic and fantastical Walt Disney Concert Hall, it’s easy to fade into the background. Yet, The Broad, a contemporary art museum founded by philanthropists Eli and Edythe Broad, is anything but missable. The two buildings create quite the visual contrast: the former a sculptural mass of metallic and reflective surfaces while the latter an architecturally ambitious white box structure enveloped in a perforated cement waffle-like cladding.
Located on Grand Avenue in downtown Los Angeles, the private museum was designed by New York City-based Diller Scofidio + Renfro in collaboration with Gensler. Opened in September 2015, it was built to make the 2000-odd works of art accessible to the public. The Broad collection, one of the largest of post-war and contemporary pieces (1950s and onwards), finds its large audience in rotating temporary exhibitions as well as a lending program to other museums and galleries worldwide.
One of its best assets, however, is free admission to the public. “The museum is free and open to the public, so there's no admissions desk; there's no position for a person of authority. That’s so much a part of the character of the building when you are coming off the street, and allows for a fluidity of movement,” explains Elizabeth Diller, co-founder and partner, Diller Scofidio + Renfro.
The museum was designed to be both a large platform for exhibition with a column-less gallery space as well as house a huge collection for lending activities. The design concept that manifested from these two main functions was dubbed ‘the veil and vault’. “The veil is a porous, honeycomb-like exterior structure that spans across the block-long upper gallery to provide an acre of column-free gallery space bathed in filtered light. This five-sided element makes up the edge facades and the roof and is structural in various areas, allowing us to have a 200-foot structure span that goes all the way across from wall to wall,” explains Diller.
Essentially, the veil is a semi-perforated exoskeleton that filters light into the entire structure. It loosely wraps around the storage area called the vault as well as public areas like the block-long skylight gallery. This exoskeleton gently lifts at two corners from where the public can enter. “We designed the veil to bring in light from everywhere and to complement Disney Hall next door, which is very large, gestural, and sculptural. Rather than make the building reflective like Disney Hall, we chose to make it absorptive, so that it brings in light like a sponge. That difference in materiality led to a definition of what the skin could be,” she says.
Rather than tuck the storage area away, the architects used it to shape the museum and the visitor’s experience from entry to exit. Dubbed the vault, its heavy opaque mass is always in view hovering midway in the building. “Typically, storage in a museum is off-site or in some back-of-house space that nobody ever sees: it is above, below, to the edge but never in view. In designing The Broad, we decided what is typically a detractor could actually be a really interesting figure in the architecture, so why not turn it into a protagonist? Why not make it formally visible and in contact with the public spaces and with the galleries?” Diller continues.
The vault is used to store the collection as well as the back of house spaces and staff quarters. It is almost like a floating mass in the middle of the building, comprising the second level. Its carved underside shapes the lobby below and public circulation routes. Its top surface is the floor of the third-level galleries. “It’s very heavy, mostly solid form is lifted off the ground and in the middle of the section of the building. Underneath is mostly public space and some galleries, with a bit of storage space. On top of the vault is the main 35,000 square foot gallery. This formally expressive, heavy and opaque sculptural element is housed within the veil,” informs Diller.
The visitor’s journey
The museum’s ‘veil’ lifts at the corners, welcoming visitors into the lobby and shop. The journey continues upwards via an escalator that almost tunnels its way through the vault to reach the nearly one-acre, column-free gallery space that is bathed in soft light filtering through the veil. The gallery has 23-foot-high ceilings and the roof is supported by seven-foot-deep steel girders. Visitors exit the third floor via a twisting stairway that runs through the vault, offering enticing peeks of the vast collection in storage.
“At the main exhibitions’ floor, visitors are not told where to go. Rather than starting the show in a specific location, they actually find themselves in the middle of the space under one acre of skylights, uninterrupted by columns. I think this agency of the freedom of movement that the building provides is part of its character and perhaps part of its success,” explains Diller.
The public plaza
“The 24,000 square-foot plaza to the south of The Broad is a collaboration with Hood Design and creates an inviting green space from Grand Avenue to Hope Street,” says Diller. The idea, she explains, was to tap into the new spirit of downtown LA through a mix of culture, recreation and food. For the museum’s outdoor events and programs, they created an intimate, sunlit lawn. Movement in the plaza is kept fluid with some movable furniture to allow visitors to reconfigure the space while furnishings include tree stump tables and seating fabricated from salvaged olive trees.
“The plaza landscaping features a bosque of Barouni olive trees, originally seeded in the early 20th century in groves in the Shasta Cascade region of Northern California. Characterised by dappled sunlight, crushed stone paving, and flowering groundcover, the bosque provides a buffer and counterpoint to activity on the street,” she concludes.
Private Museums of the World:
Curated by Pramiti Madhavji, STIR presents Private Museums of the World: an original series that takes you behind the scenes of privately-owned museums, sharing their origin with chats with art collectors, museum directors, curators and architects, who seamlessly come together to create the most unusual and amazing structures to host art collections.