Veil & Vault
Los Angeles's newest museum: The Broad
Eli Broad made his first fortune selling tract homes in Phoenix and Detroit. Now Los Angeles’s most visible philanthropist, he has spent millions helping turn Grand Avenue, which crests Bunker Hill between the LA Cathedral and Grand Central Library, into a clear-cut cultural thoroughfare. The downtown district’s tenants include the Colburn Dance Academy, the LA Opera, the Museum of Contemporary Art’s main campus and Frank Gehry’s famous Disney Concert Hall, the fundraising for which Broad spearheaded. As the Grand Avenue development enters its final phase, the octogenarian patron of the arts has hired New York architects Diller Scofidio + Renfro (DS+R) to build one final monument on a corner lot adjacent to the concert hall: a contemporary art museum called, simply, The Broad.
In wry contrast to the more lyrical edifices nearby, DS+R’s building appears to be a plain, three-storey box. Its signature feature is a white fibreglass and concrete exterior punctured by hundreds of uniformly angled, recessed windows. Nicknamed ‘the Veil’, the shell of The Broad wrings as much textile-like lightness as possible from its material while remaining beefy enough to enclose, with the help of steel beams, a striking 3,250 m² column-free exhibition hall: an airy, sky-lit volume with views through all but the west interior wall. The Veil lifts at two corners to form street-level entrances onto the lobby and an additional 1,400 m² of ground-floor exhibition space (a device that recalls the firm’s frontage for the Alice Tully Hall at New York’s Lincoln Center). Visitors ascend via escalator or elevator through the undulating, opaque concrete cavern of the second floor – ‘the Vault’ – which houses conservation, storage, offices and conference rooms. All public conveyances exit at a central cluster on the main exhibition floor – in fact, the flat top of the Vault. The exhibition’s bureaucratic and technical support structure literally doubles as its pedestal.
The architects’ own branding of their plan as the Veil and the Vault makes explicit the dual nature of their client, The Broad Foundation, run by Eli and Edythe Broad. Though the Foundation lends widely – 8,000 loans in 21 years, or an average of one work per day – the collection is decidedly private. Indeed, The Broad also stores and lends the couple’s personal holdings. Both groups of artwork were formerly displayed at two main locations: the Foundation’s headquarters and galleries in coastal Santa Monica (open by appointment only) and mid-city in the Broad wing of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The LACMA Broad wing may have put its red-painted guts – vents, staircases – on the exterior (a favourite device of its architect Renzo Piano), but the mechanics of the collection remained behind closed doors in offices some 15 kilometres to the west. The Broad museum on Grand Avenue instead consolidates these functions into a single building. Yet, its bipartite construction remains a remarkably honest metaphor for the dichotomy of the Foundation’s showing/acquiring, public/private pursuits. The building’s surface resembles a biosynthetic scaffolding, a filter-like block cut to size from a ‘cultural’ tissue, which at once displays, circulates and shares while simultaneously conserving, storing and accumulating art objects.
First published in Issue 173