The Broad: Synergy of Architectural Diagram and Art

I highly anticipated my visit to The Broad on September 30, and the experience did not disappoint.  The strategies employed by the Architects – Diller Scofidio and Renfro – to create the form of the building parallels my own research into architectural form making.  Their literal interpretation of the programmatic requirements into a clear diagram pairs beautifully with an exceptional attention to detail.  I may not agree with all of the final results, but the building communicates effectively to a visitor and provides an exceptional space for contemporary art.

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IMPLEMENTATION OF DIAGRAM

This building is exemplary of my own architectural theory, that of “Diagramism.”  This is a tendency of contemporary architects to produce work based on dynamic or volumetric diagrams, and then literally form the geometries of the building to conform to those experiential ideas.  In the case of The Broad, the diagram was singular and simple, that of the “veil and the vault.”  The two main programmatic requirements for the museum were the storage and the display of artwork.  The Architect made a very precise move to embed the “vault” within a “veil” of brise soleil (shading concrete skin).

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As a visitor, one is almost always aware of their location within that diagram.  Besides the bold geometric forms, the Architects employ complementary material selections to reinforce their diagrammatic ideas: the vault is gray concrete and the veil is a white patterned concrete shell.  The below grade parking facility deposits the visitor outside along a new park via an elevator.  So, everyone must enter the building from the street.  Once inside, there is a bit of distraction, but it is clear the seemingly infinite escalator is beckoning you.  One proceeds up through the vault to arrive at the vast daylit gallery on the top floor of the 3 story building.

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Importantly, the three modes of vertical circulation – stair, elevator, and escalator – all arrive at exactly the same central opening in the top floor gallery space.  This is an important correlation for a visitor’s orientation, and to parallel the experiences of different visitors.  Additionally, there is no escalator down, so it is helpful to immediately be made aware of the staircase for your eventual descent back through the vault, to street level.

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It should be noted that the entire top floor is a column-less space, to allow for unobstructed view and layout of the art installations .  This acrobatic and beautiful effort by the architectural designers is mostly unnoticed by a majority of visitors; the enormity and significance of the column-less roof visually disappears due to the considerable height of the moveable partitions.  I can imagine a possible meeting between the Architect, Curator, and Eli Broad, where they debated the primacy of ‘function’ in displaying art or ‘form’ of architecture to supersede each other in the space making.

 

DETAILS

The concrete skin is quite elegant, but should be discussed as the separate entities of the roof and of the facade.  The designer’s decision to break the transition from facade wall to ceiling with a recessed cove for the vertical glass panels has the unfortunate result of severing their relationship.  I don’t know what decision went into this design detail, but I am left to wonder if a protruded concrete channel may have worked better to receive the top of the glass.  It has also been reported that the budget for the concrete veil was a point of contention between the designers and Eli Broad.

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Visually though, the ceiling is awe-inspiring.  There are no joints to be seen, the ceiling’s coffers provide an unprecedented smoothness.  The necessary inclusion of pragmatic elements, such as light fixtures and sprinkler heads, is practically invisible.  Amazingly, the filtered north facing clerestory windows provide such a consistent and substantive amount of sunlight, that artificial lights were not used during my visit.  Intelligently, the diagonal orientation of the roof panels is a result of the rotated street grid of downtown LA, so that the clerestory windows are aligned along an east-west axis, so that they never take direct sunlight.

 

DIAGRAM DEGRADATION

Unfortunately, most of the first floor experience ruins the diagram.  There’s an additional 50% more gallery space buried here, forgotten below the vault, and without any use of the veil.  There is also 50% more storage space, not visually contained within the geometry of the vault sitting directly above.  This is some sort of purgatory space, not defined as either vault or veil.  Closer examination of the diagram would certainly make one wonder, what happened here?

I believe there is an unnecessary direct adjacency of the concrete skin and the vault.  you can see the crevice between the two elements is only a couple of feet, which makes the diagram more difficult to read.  Why not create an amorphous vault, in whatever shape was necessary to house that whole program, and allow the galleries to navigate around that central core?  I see it more like a peach with a pit.  The acrobatics of creating that white patterned facade so close to the concrete behind it seems a wasted effort, because a visitor can never actually occupy the expectedly beautiful interstitial spaces created.

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This confusion of first floor galleries had two visible effects (1) they were more crowded – were people getting trapped there?, and (2) this created a gallery hierarchy – art installed on the relatively noisy ground floor was effectively housed in the basement, whereas the art on the top floor was in an ethereal penthouse.

 

OH YEAH, THE ART!

Though the primary purpose of my visit was for the Architecture, the contemporary art on display is thought-provoking and graphically impressive.  There are many pieces that are fun, like those of Jeff Koons or the giant dining table. In stark contrast, there are also many pieces that realm in the darker emotions of pain.  All of the art on the top floor fit seamlessly into the grandeur of the giant space.  The art that was most harmonious with the architecture was probably the shiny dog, who obediently reflected the nearby concrete veil.

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URBANISTICALLY. . .

The Broad fills in an important spatial gap along Grand Avenue.  My boyfriend, Rob, remarked how he felt it was a “real neighborhood” now.  Indeed, there’s a spiritual synergy that has been created at the Los Angeles civic center.  The Broad is a beautiful, glowing, addition.

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The adjacent park at the Southwest of the building, however, was a little more difficult to comprehend.  A high-end restaurant was furiously being constructed during my visit.  Beyond the restaurant, a new metro station is being constructed, which is planned to connect to the park via a pedestrian bridge.  The restaurant location would seemingly prohibit visual connections between such a public bridge and the park, severing visual the link to Grand Avenue.

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While at my previous job at JFAK Architects, we had been invited to a competition to design a separate restaurant building at the Northwest side of the museum, where there is now an empty space.  Presumably, the designers are planning to absorb this pedestrian bridge at this location.  So, the success of this precinct remains to be seen.

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