On the east side, two wings reach into the landscaped sculpture garden to form a forecourt that leads to the entrance. The leaning forms on the outside translate inside into leaning, dynamic spaces. Immediately, visitors find themselves in an angular, listing wonderland of high rooms that widen and narrow, pushing them along in a dynamic flow. The vectorial spaces lead up a dramatically angled staircase fitted into an inclined chimney of space at the core of the building. The staircase serves as a point of reference, offering graphic compositions in black and gray that shift with movement. Throughout, alternately straight and leaning walls seem to accelerate and slow space, provoking an empathic relationship with the visitor.
The half-dozen galleries on both floors are discrete trapezoidal rooms whose converging walls and sloping ceilings transmit the dynamism of the shell to the interior, perpetuating the sense of discovery that propels visitors through the building: No two galleries are the same. The path culminates in a two-story gallery at the western edge of the building—the culmination of the promenade’s spatial narrative. In this main gallery, and several others in the building, windows offering views outside provide relief from the concentrational spaces. The windows are fitted with the louvered fins of the pleated façade, which work as brise-soleils.
For all the mystification of the forms, the building is organized and practical, with an axis running through the first floor, connecting the east and west entrances to the staircase in the middle. Galleries upstairs also work off a central corridor. The organization is efficient, with a high net-ratio of gallery to infrastructure.
The scolds who often criticize visually striking museums for competing with the art can relax here at the Broad. The galleries, though shaped, are supportive, offering simple spaces without distracting detail or form. Where there is an occasional wall that leans, the director, Michael Rush, and curators have adapted installations to the architecture in a way that creates local events. In one gallery, they suspended a Joseph Cornell box on wires perpendicular to a leaning wall, creating an intimate viewing space. On two other walls—one leaning forward and the other back—they placed framed works on walls, so that the lean personalizes the viewing space in front of the work, shifting the geometry of the usual frontal position. The curators did not fight the walls but instead worked with them to create distinctive viewing moments that benefit both the art and the viewer.
As Frank Gehry, FAIA, noted when his Guggenheim opened in Bilbao, artists actually like displaying their work in a building with presence: The importance of the building honors the art and lends the art importance; the building conditions the visitor for a special encounter with the art.
Hadid’s design, then, is not a demure, falsely modest building, but an unapologetic spectacle of angular beauty. It ranks as a work of art in the museum’s own collection. The Broad may be relatively small, but it is a small museum that delivers a big effect—on the community, on the institution, and on the viewer in front of the art.
The Broad is a museum that artists will want to be in, and a destination that will attract people from many states away. It is also a missionary building, one whose very ethos proselitizes for the new and innovative, symbolizing the university’s own role in research and education. More than a symbol, however, it works as a strong piece of art, inciting the senses, provoking thought, and expanding consciousness. Few people will remain indifferent in its commanding presence.