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The new Broad and BCAM: Where have we seen that before?

January 7, 2011 | 10:45 am

DS+R section Now that architects Diller Scofidio + Renfro have unveiled the design for the Broad, the new Grand Avenue building in downtown Los Angeles for the Broad Art Foundation's collection and the personal art holdings of philanthropists Eli and Edythe Broad, comparisons are being drawn. Blogger William Poundstone has several of the more interesting ones, focused on the Broad Contemporary Art Museum building at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. BCAM, designed by architect Renzo Piano, opened in 2008.

Perhaps the urge to compare was fueled by Elizabeth Diller's opening remarks at Thursday's news conference to showcase the new design. After effusive praise for architect Frank Gehry, seated up front and whose Disney Concert Hall stands adjacent to the new Broad, Diller said her firm had decided it "could not compete" with the iconic hall. (Who knew that congenial urban design was a competition?) So, Diller said the decision was made to go in the opposite direction.

Up came a remarkable image on the big projection screen showing what she meant.

Superimposed over a close-up detail of Gehry's Disney Hall (where the news conference was taking place) were the words "shiny" and "flat," a reference to the silver metal cladding on the building's famously curved, sail-like outer walls. Superimposed on DS+R's Broad, represented by a close-up of some sort of perforated beige material, were the contrasting words "matte" and "porous."

Some eyebrows in the room shot up. Was this reductive word game a "competitive" diss of Gehry's signature style as creating glittery, shallow baubles --shiny and flat -- perhaps suitable for an earlier era, but now to be followed by a sober, intellectually driven conceptual transparency? DS+R has built little, but the firm is known for approaching design less as a matter of shaping physical space and more as a conceptual art.

BCAM Mel Melcon  Los Angeles Times But back to BCAM. Perhaps the most remarkable comparison that emerged from the presentation is the new museum design's backward look to that recent predecessor.

The new Broad design features a one-way escalator up to a big, column-free, skylighted third-floor gallery, not well-suited for light-sensitive art objects, with free-standing walls and a meandering staircase leading visitors back down to ground level. BCAM features a one-way escalator up to a big, column-free, skylighted third-floor gallery, not well-suited for light-sensitive art objects, with free-standing walls and a meandering staircase leading visitors back down to ground level.

There are plenty of obvious differences between the two buildings, of course, including two additional art exhibition floors at BCAM and cast-concrete cladding for the Broad rather than traditional stone. But the similarity in plan is startling; perhaps it speaks to the client's unchanging interests from one art museum project to the next.

Competition, it turns out, can be a funny thing.

-- Christopher Knight

 @twitter.com/KnightLAT

 Photo (top): A cross-section of the Broad design showing the up escalator and staircase. Credit: Diller Scofidio + Renfro.

Photo (bottom): The BCAM up escalator and staircase. Credit: Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times

RELATED

BroaddesignAnimated fly-through of DS+R design for Broad building

The grand plan for the Broad museum

Critic's notebook: Broad museum design pointed in the right direction

More images of DSR's design for the Broad museum

 

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