The Broad, which opens on September 20
Photo by Iwan Baan, courtesy of The Broad and Diller Scofidio + Renfro The Broad, which opens on September 20
When it opens to the public later this month in Downtown Los Angeles, the Broad, a museum of post-war and contemporary art by Diller Scofidio + Renfro (DS+R), will find itself measured against the yardstick of some architecturally competitive company. Lining Grand Avenue, the site of the new museum, are buildings by Frank Gehry, FAIA, Arata Isozaki, Hon. FAIA, Arthur Erickson, Rafael Moneo, Coop Himmelb(l)au, Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer, and Bertram Goodhue, among others. The specimens span nearly a century of American architectural history. 


The three-story, 120,000-square-foot, $140-million Broad was built on one of the last vacant parcels in one of the longest running urban renewal projects in American history. In 1955, the sorry, sagging Victorian mansions of Bunker Hill, long since turned into boarding houses, were razed in a saga of Modernist tabula rasa urban planning that is only now nearing completion, with one or two parcels still to go. 

An aerial of the Broad, which sits just to the south of Gehry's Walt Disney Concert Hall on Grand Avenue
Photo by Jeff Duran/Warren Air, courtesy of The Broad and Diller Scofidio + Renfro An aerial of the Broad, which sits just to the south of Gehry's Walt Disney Concert Hall on Grand Avenue

Several years ago, Los Angeles philanthropist Eli Broad secured the right to a county-owned parcel, and held an invited competition to design what for him was clearly a special project, a museum for a collection he and his wife, Edythe, have spent half a lifetime amassing. All the architects found themselves caught between a rock, Mr. Broad, and a hard spot, Walt Disney Concert Hall.  Broad is a major American collector, but as a former developer, he’s no-nonsense when it comes to building. He wanted to max out the interior space to accommodate the program of galleries, storage, Broad Foundation offices, and parking, packing the permissible envelope. 

The most efficient way to maximize square footage on the orthogonal site was to build a box. But an iconic box: Broad wanted a structure with architectural ambition and cultural reach suitable for his collection. Plus it had to stand up to no less than Disney Hall, icon of L.A. icons, the site’s immediate neighbor to the north, a building that Broad had helped realize through his fundraising efforts. 


Gehry himself might have been the obvious choice for the Broad commission, but given the long and complicated personal and professional history and hard-won friendship between the two men, he demurred when Broad broached the subject, and the two left it at that. Broad proceeded with a competition, asking several people, myself included, to contribute pro bono suggestions for firms. Besides DS+R, the final short list included Rem Koolhaas, Hon. FAIA, SANAA, Christian de Portzamparc, and Herzog & de Meuron.

Detail of the building's exterior veil
Photo by Iwan Baan, courtesy of The Broad and Diller Scofidio + Renfro Detail of the building's exterior veil

With its turbulent, churning façade, Disney Hall is a hard icon to follow.  New-York based DS+R simply changed the subject, creating a contrarian design that is everything Disney Hall isn’t: straight vs. curved, matte vs. reflective, whole vs. fragmented, linear vs. curvilinear, conceptual vs. abstract, porous vs. flat. The firm established its own arena of invention, eliminating any potential competitive friction from a difficult architectural relationship. 


An L.A. pedestrian expecting a conventional streetscape will be surprised at Broad’s box, which looks like the conflation of the Titanic with an iceberg at the moment of impact. This Titanic has two prows, however, north and south, and both are upended at an angle, resulting in a gestalt that disturbs the dominant surrounding orthogonality. While Disney Hall sails above Grand Avenue, which remains a placid datum, the upended Broad challenges the calm horizontal. 

The entrance to the Broad 
Photo by Iwan Baan, courtesy of The Broad and Diller Scofidio + Renfro The entrance to the Broad 


DS+R designed the skin of the building as a field of 2,500 rhomboidal modular panels of fiberglass reinforced concrete, distantly recalling the panelized facades of Marcel Breuer’s buildings from the Sixties— but distorted. With parametrics, the honeycomb exoskeleton, suspended on a steel frame, was designed so that all panels, acting collectively as a brise-soleil, have orientations calibrated to shield the interior from direct sunlight, regardless of the season or time of day. A wormhole in the skin of the façade creates an exceptional moment, a singularity within the field of subtly differentiated panels that signals an exceptional space within, the auditorium. The rooflines appear to slope, as though in forced, two-point perspective, a perceptual illusion resulting from a grid stretched like panty hose to guarantee proper solar orientation. 

The interior lobby
Photo by Iwan Baan, courtesy of The Broad and Diller Scofidio + Renfro The interior lobby

Visitors enter under the glazed, upended corners into a public foyer that traverses the façade along Grand: the architectural language of its swelling compound curves differs from the gridded façade that veils the space with a gentle light. A lateral view north toward Disney Hall, through the upended corner, reveals that the architects may have avoided Gehry’s language on the outside, but they have taken his curves and extended them into their building—perhaps a conscious contextual echo, perhaps a nod to the way computers now easily think in curves, perhaps just because they could.

The curviplanar walls of the Broad create a spatial fluidity that moves visitors toward a 10,000-aquare-foot gallery on the ground floor, and up into a rounded stairwell and escalator shafts leading to the second and third floors. Unlike many buildings where the façade is the main architectural event, including Disney Hall, the entrance foyer is also a main architectural event; visitors are conditioned by both the façade and the foyer to feel that they are entering a special precinct that will deliver a special experience. The design suspends disbelief.

The lobby, with a view of the stairs and escalator
Photo by Iwan Baan, courtesy of The Broad and Diller Scofidio + Renfro The lobby, with a view of the stairs and escalator

Whether through the shafts holding the stair or elevator, or via a glass-encapsulated elevator, visitors on their way up to the top gallery floor glimpse views into the core of the museum, a storage area containing one of America’s largest private collections of contemporary art, which Broad intends to function as a lending library. To a certain extent, the box holds a treasure chest at its core, encased in concrete, topped by a huge gallery, all wrapped by the gridded veil. 


The third floor gallery, including works by Barbara Kruger, Cindy
Sherman, Richard Prince, and Sherrie Levine
Photo by Iwan Baan, courtesy of The Broad and Diller Scofidio + Renfro. The third floor gallery, including works by Barbara Kruger, Cindy Sherman, Richard Prince, and Sherrie Levine

The diagram of the whole, and its section, is very simple, a box within a box on top of a box of parking. (Grand Avenue, like Park Avenue in New York, is actually an elevated boulevard with service roads and parking below.) The architects say simply that the scheme is a “veil” covering a “vault.” Because of difficulties manufacturing the rhomboidal panels as designed, they had to be thickened, which regrettably decreases the diaphanous quality of the façades, diminishing the original levity of the design and the life of the corners. Still, the concept remains intact even if the result has lost some of the intended lightness.  

The organizational simplicity is deceptive, because the skin plays perceptual tricks on the interior spaces: the eye fools the body into feeling that the wall and ceiling planes are somehow complex, perhaps even warped. Change the angle of vision and the illusion shifts, encouraging visitors to keep moving, as though this were a new kind of rainbow to chase.  

The third-floor gallery, showing the veil from the interior
Photo by Iwan Baan, courtesy of The Broad and Diller Scofidio + Renfro The third-floor gallery, showing the veil from the interior

Each panel of the roof is glazed. Natural light bounces off the glowing interior frames, creating a remarkably luminous space. Appearing to slope, the high ceiling over the column-free, 40,000-square-foot third-floor gallery hovers over the art displayed on walls below, which are non-structural and changeable. Track lights ride in thin, barely visible slots between the ceiling panels, leaving the plane of the ceiling clean, and the illusion intact.

Installation of Robert Therrien’s "Under the Table" (1994)
Photo by Elizabeth Daniels, courtesy of The Broad and Diller Scofidio + Renfro. Installation of Robert Therrien’s "Under the Table" (1994)

The architects have used a minimum of means to achieve Broad’s desire for a strong architectural presence, both outside and in, yet it manages to be discreet. The reticence, however, should not be confused for meekness: the design successfully stands up to the lyrical complexity of Disney Hall by rivaling its intensity. With its upended corners, the Broad challenges the geometry of the street with just a couple of moves that make the box iconic; meanwhile, the grid sustains interest by capturing the eye with the distortional lines scripted incrementally into its field. The field is not a one liner, easily dismissed. The eye lingers and wonders.  


Inside, the museum proves a Fabergé egg of interior worlds, from the curving walls of the long entry foyer, up through the tunneling staircases to the vast, light-filled hall of shifting illusions. 

Cool storage room with Paul Pfeiffer’s "Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse #10" (2004) on display
Photo by Iwan Baan, courtesy of The Broad and Diller Scofidio + Renfro Cool storage room with Paul Pfeiffer’s "Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse #10" (2004) on display
When Gehry designed Disney Hall, his acoustician recommended the shoebox as the acoustically optimal geometry. Gehry removed corners and curving planes to open the box spatially while retaining its acoustic properties.  In a similar way, DS+R used a few deft moves to make its box something more— lifting the corners, indenting the wormhole, and creating a façade of gridded panels that stretch and deform according to light and position.  The box doesn’t look or behave like one.


DS+R’s light touch turns the building into the biggest work of art in the Broad, a piece of conceptual and perceptual architecture. It’s not only a contender among the architectural icons of Grand Avenue. With a strong and simple idea, strongly and simply realized, it even matches the indomitable Disney in presence. 

The building's outdoor plaza
Photo by Iwan Baan, courtesy of The Broad and Diller Scofidio + Renfro The building's outdoor plaza

The Oculus Hall
Photo by Elizabeth Daniels, courtesy of The Broad and Diller Scofidio + Renfro The Oculus Hall
The Oculus Hall 
Photo by Elizabeth Daniels, courtesy of The Broad and Diller Scofidio + Renfro
The Oculus Hall 


The lobby
Photo by Iwan Baan, courtesy of The Broad and Diller Scofidio + Renfro The lobby


Detail of the veil
Photo © Hufton + Crow, courtesy of The Broad and Diller Scofidio + Renfro Detail of the veil