In fittingly dramatic fashion, philanthropists Eli and Edythe Broad today unveiled designs for their long-awaited, $130 million museum on Grand Avenue in Downtown Los Angeles. The project, designed by New York architects Diller Scofidio + Renfro, is both boisterous and restrained, and has the capacity to help transform a street that has long attempted, and largely failed, to be a vibrant cultural hub for the city. It will be home to the Broads' collection of over 2,000 contemporary artworks, as well as to the offices of the Broad Foundation.
“We’re convinced that Grand Avenue is where it’s at,” said Eli Broad, who has played a significant role in much of the street’s distinctive architecture, including Coop Himmelb(l)au’s High School #9, Arata Isozaki’s MOCA, and of course Disney Hall.
DS+R, well known for its work on New York’s High Line and Alice Tully Hall, and Boston’s Institute for Contemporary Art, among other influential projects, has created a design that in many ways—but not all—embraces Downtown LA, adding visual energy and inviting people in.
The three-story, 120,000 square foot building is essentially a traditional steel-framed box wrapped in what the firm calls the “veil,” an arresting honeycomb of interconnecting structural concrete trapezoids. The veil, pointed out DS+R’s Elizabeth Diller, will allow passersby to get glimpses inside the building, while allowing art viewers to peek outside. The veil’s design originated as a response to the highly expressive Disney Hall, which is next to the new building. While Disney is shiny and solid, The Broad, as the new museum will be called, will be porous and cellular. Diller said the firm looked at sponges and lava stones for inspiration.
One enters the building through a “lift” in the veil, a large glass-clad cantilever on the corner of Grand Avenue and 2nd Street that’s evocative of the entry to DS+R’s Alice Tully Hall. The opening will “blow a kiss to Disney,” joked Diller, and invite people to come into the lobby, a very sculptural space that will be activated with a cafe, bookstore and multimedia space. On the escalator ride up to the main galleries, one procedes through a dramatic tunnel that pierces the “vault,” a solid space containing the museum’s storage and archives. The Foundation’s offices and a lecture hall will also be contained on these intermediate floors. On the way down, a separate passageway will allow for glimpses into the vault, which the designers described as an invitation to return and a disclosure to visitors on the inner workings of the museum.
The top-floor galleries will contain 40,000 square feet of open, column-free exhibition space that take advantage of the veil’s construction to draw natural light in mesmerizing patterns. DS+R, pointed out associate Kevin Rice, is working with Arup lighting designer Andy Sedgwick, the same consultant who has worked with Renzo Piano on many of his memorable skylights. Other partners in the project will include Executive Architect Gensler.
Diller was quick to point out that while the building will add excitement to Grand Avenue and downtown LA, “it’s only a step. It will not solve LA’s problems.” While the building’s Grand Avenue and 2nd Avenue facades appear fairly active with their glassy fronts and widened sidewalks, its south and west elevations are still question marks. Those sides will have no public entrance and meet the street via the building’s three-story parking garage. Much depends on whether the stalled Grand Avenue Project’s planned meandering plazas around the space, which could better connect the museum not only with the urban grid but with a new transit station being planned about a block away, get built. While many seem unsure if the public space will move forward, city planner Simon Pastucha said that “it’s a requirement, it’s just a question of when.” When asked about the retail, restaurant, park, and hotel-rich Grand Avenue project, which is hyped as the people-drawing complement to the street’s institutional heft, Broad told AN “it’s delayed, but it’s still going.”
But until that project moves forward The Broad—with its flashy architecture and $2 billion collection— remains Grand Avenue’s best hope for regeneration.