Coral reef. Sugar cube. Skin. Cheese grater.
The Broad has been compared to many things, but for the architects, it is simply “the veil and the vault.”
Diller Scofidio + Renfro, the New York-based firm that designed the High Line park in lower Manhattan, encased the museum in a porous exoskeleton that allows diffuse light into the galleries and then made the art storage a centerpiece of the design, turning the traditional “back of house” functions of a museum into part of the public’s experience.
“We gave storage a high status in this design,” said Elizabeth Diller, principal-in-charge of Diller Scofidio + Renfro. “It lives in the ‘vault,’ a large sculptural volume, trapped in the porous outer shell, the ‘veil,’ which filters daylight into the galleries and other spaces. But the vault is always in public view. You see it from the street. It looms above you as you enter the building. You’re always circulating around and through it on your way into and out of the galleries.”
Designing The Broad was a challenge from the start: how to create a museum that combined both public gallery space and enough storage for 2,000 artworks in a footprint that was one square block with a height limit of three stories. And it would be located on Grand Avenue, the heart of Los Angeles culture, across the street from the iconic and exuberant steel forms of Frank Gehry’s Walt Disney Concert Hall.
Given their lifelong love of great architecture, and the belief that the best designs emerge from architectural competitions, Eli and Edye Broad invited six world-renowned architects to submit ideas in 2010. They selected Diller Scofidio + Renfro, who also designed the Institute of Contemporary Art on Boston Harbor and the renovation and expansion of Lincoln Center. Their plan for The Broad not only wowed conceptually but also captured the fundamental nature of the Broad collection and its very public focus.
The museum, at once elegant and effacing, is an ideal foil to striking, bright Disney
Hall across the street. As visitors enter the cavernous lobby, under the silver shadowy curves of the second-floor vault that shape the ceiling, they tunnel through the vault via a dramatic escalator, arriving in the ethereal light of the third-floor gallery. More than 300 skylights draw in daylight that bathes the 35,000 square feet of column-free gallery space in diffuse natural light, while the porous veil wraps the museum’s façade, offering uniquely framed glimpses of downtown Los Angeles. The vault, encased in dark velvety grey Venetian plaster, offers glimpses of the interior workings of the museum and the lending library through windows along the staircase that takes visitors back down to the first floor, where 15,000 square feet more of gallery space awaits.
Adjacent to the museum is a public plaza, also designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro, that features an intimate lawn, surrounded by a grove of 100-year-old Barouni olive trees, providing an urban oasis for museum-goers, local residents and nearby workers.
With the opening of The Broad, Grand Avenue is home to more world-class architecture in just a few blocks than can be found in any other such stretch in the world: the High School for the Visual and Performing Arts by Wolf Prix, the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels by Rafael Moneo, Disney Hall by Frank Gehry, MOCA by Arata Isozaki, and now The Broad by Diller Scofidio + Renfro.