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The Broad Museum's Place on Grand Avenue

The Broad on Grand Avenue in downtown Los Angeles. | Photo: Benny Chan, courtesy of The Broad and Diller Scofidio + Renfro.
The Broad on Grand Avenue in downtown Los Angeles. | Photo: Benny Chan, courtesy of The Broad and Diller Scofidio + Renfro.

Architects Diller Scofidio + Renfro have built some of recent contemporary architecture's most exuberant buildings. Their 2002 Blur building at the Swiss Expo, attracted visitors into a series of interconnected catwalks enveloped in a whirl of fog and mist, (the water was pumped-in from Lake Neuchâtel upon which the structure sat, and then released through a calibrated valve system). In effect, Blur creates an occupiable cloud. But DS+R are best known for 2009's High Line project in New York -- the former elevated railroad line through Manhattan's Lower West side has transformed the neighborhood in a cool, picturesque and sustainable manner. The project has elevated their practice to international renown.

In their early years, founders Elizabeth Diller and Ricardo Scofidio -- later joined by Charles Renfro -- worked more like an art practice designing exhibitions, and have been successful in consistently achieving an easy theatrical flair in their projects. DS+R like to charm users of their buildings with a cheekiness that winks back. Inside Diller Scofidio + Renfro's (DS+R) new Broad museum on Grand Avenue, visitors will experience a characteristically delightful romp through developer and philanthropist Eli Broad's -- along with his wife Edythe's -- private collection of modern and contemporary art.

The Broad is executed with meticulous follow through -- especially in the building's envelope, where the deep and distorted pattern of perforations and their geometry alone transform bright daylight into a soft, evenly diffuse wash that the Broad's sprawling collection requires. DS+R's work often takes a self-reflexive approach to the idea of inhabitation of the building, putting visitors on display to one another, and The Broad keeps that legacy going in many places like its singular, up-only escalator ride -- guests to Wednesday's pre-opening events alluded to the trip upstairs through slowly narrowing, tapered walls like arriving at death's door, or through the birth canal. The human-sized pneumatic shoot of the clear glass lift elicits giggles too from visitors, and the twists of the cavernous stairway reveal the inner guts of the building: The Broad's sprawling vault of treasures as they sit in their climate-controlled vault.

But out on the street, things get more complicated.

As the new Broad museum enjoys its well-deserved accolades in the design press, and its red-carpet premier in the glow of the paparazzi's flashing bulbs, it seems that everyone involved -- critics, bloggers, boosters, the architects themselves, even Eli Broad -- can't manage to speak about The Broad museum without mentioning the building's contrasting presence to the Disney Concert Hall next door. On Wednesday's press preview, Elizabeth Diller described her building "contrasting Disney hall," where the Broad's curves "are on the inside." Others have communicated the obvious in a less graceful way: One building is curvy and one is flat, one is shiny and one is matte. In each introduction or description there is a desire to accept, acknowledge and then move on quickly from the intrinsic problem of the site: The long-established lack of relational coherence on Bunker Hill manifests itself physically in any structure that is developed there, making the relationship between any new neighbor a forced and awkward one.

For over 50 years, the architectural story of Bunker Hill has been one of misplaced connection, beginning with the Music Center's development in 1955. Its seven-acre plinth carried the first of L.A.'s three performing arts power houses on Grand Avenue: The Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Mark Taper Forum and Ahmanson Theater. Architect Welton Becket sited them in a shotgun layout -- one in front of the other -- in effect orchestrating a campus on which the venues operate next-to but ultimately sit unrelated to each other.

Aerial photo of The Broad in downtown Los Angeles. | Photo: Jeff Duran/Warren Air, courtesy of The Broad and Diller Scofidio + Renfro.
Aerial photo of The Broad in downtown Los Angeles. | Photo: Jeff Duran/Warren Air, courtesy of The Broad and Diller Scofidio + Renfro.

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