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Recently opened in 2015, The Broad Museum has quickly become one of the architectural icons in Downtown Los Angeles. It is one of the most unusual and whimsical gallery spaces in the city and is unmatched in terms of its design. Funded by philanthropist Eli Broad and his wife Edyth, the 120,000 square foot building was designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro for a total of $140 million.
The museum houses a collection of nearly 2,000 pieces from contemporary artists such as Cindy Sherman, Jeff Koons, Ed Ruscha, Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein. After two years since opening, the museum’s popularity has not diminished--lines for its free admission still snake outside and around the building.
Constructing The Broad
It is no secret among L.A. architects that Eli Broad is passionate and protective about his projects. In the 1980s, Broad famously hired Frank Gehry to design a home for him in Brentwood. After a series of disagreements, Broad fired Gehry and hired another firm to complete the design under a tight construction timetable.
During construction of the museum, Broad filed suit against Seele Inc., the German company responsible for building the museum’s latticework, claiming that fabrication errors added nearly $20 million to construction costs and delayed the opening by more than a year.
The Broad’s placement next to one of Gehry’s most famous designs is nothing short of an architectural irony. The Broad’s airy, honeycomb design serves as a breathtaking foil to Gehry’s metallic Disney Hall. The The L.A. Times' architecture critic, Christopher Hawthorne, sums up the relationship perfectly: “Where the concert hall is reflective and extroverted, the museum is matte and mute.” Together, the two buildings stand as the city’s most recognizable modern designs.
Veil & Vault: Conceptualizing The Broad
The Broad’s design rests on its “veil and vault” concept. The building’s “veil” refers to its lattice exoskeleton that drapes over the entire building. The veil is perforated with diagonal slits—similar to a fruit foam net around a pear, or like the “webbed packing material that has replaced Styrofoam peanuts,” says architecture critic Phillip Kennicott. At the front-facing center of the building, the intricate veil gives way to a circular “oculus” that channels direct sunlight into the lecture hall on the second story. Composed of fiberglass-reinforced concrete panels, the veil lifts upward at the bottom to create triangular entrances.
One reason for the veil’s porous design has to do with specific instructions from Joanne Heyler, the museum’s director, and Broad himself. L.A. Times reports that Broad and Heyler insisted that direct sunlight be kept out of the gallery to protect the art. Through DS+R’s engineering and design, the veil allows only filtered sunlight to enter the gallery through its small, diagonal cuts.
The “vault” references the museum’s storage vault located on the second floor. Instead of relegating the vault underground or to a segregated corner of the building (as most museums do), DS+R decided to integrate the vault as a central element in The Broad’s design. “We decided to turn that liability into a protagonist,” says Diller to The Washington Post. “The [vault] hovers over you, you shoot through it, you snake back through it and you come back out underneath it.” Since the vault occupies the second floor of the museum, visitors are in continuous contact with the vault as it provides the lobby’s ceiling as well as the gallery’s floor on the third level.
A Vault Runs Through It: The Broad’s Interior
Beneath the veil’s triangular opening, floor-to-ceiling glass windows and doors lead into the cavernous lobby. Once inside, the non-Euclidean lobby is free of any harsh lines or angles. The space resembles a surrealist cave surrounded by smooth, rippling walls finished in gray Venetian plaster that complement the neutral floor. The veil is visible from the lobby’s large windows and serves a textural contrast to the smooth solid walls of the interior. Shaped by the carved underside of the museum’s vault, the lobby’s ceiling continues the space’s undulating motifs. The absence of a ticket desk further prohibits visitors from creating any angular “lines” within the fluid space. Instead, museum employees float about the lobby intermingling with the visitors “like employees at an Apple store,” observes Hawthorne.
For all of the lobby’s waves, the room is designed to move the eye towards its 105-foot-long escalator—the only linear element in the space—which transports visitors to the museum’s gallery on the third level.
The gallery’s skylights bathe the gallery in natural, filtered light. The 23-foot ceilings tower over the gallery and support the roof with 7-foot-deep steel girders. The floor of the gallery doubles as the vault’s ceiling on the second story. The gallery’s smaller rooms are separated by 16-foot high movable partitions. On the gallery’s edges, glass windows that peer out of the veil offer glimpses of Disney Hall and the surrounding areas of downtown.
When exiting the gallery, visitors are lead down a winding staircase from the third floor into the lobby. En route to the lobby, the staircase cuts through the vault. Windows in the corridor peer straight into the storage vault, giving visitors a glimpse into the vault’s paintings on storage racks. The winding staircase ends at ground floor galleries that flow directly into a bookstore and finally to the outdoor plaza populated by 100-year old Barouni olive trees.