When I first noticed “The Broad Museum” on the internet something captured me. I thought it is an architectural song writen for minimalism. I wanted to share and talk about it with a friend. Someone with a view. So I asked Spyros about his opinion. Spyros had his thesis on Museological Approaches – The Narrative of Automotive Culture, designing an innovative Museum of Automotive History and Design, so he is the kind of guy you would like to get an opinion from. So here is what came up…
A…Broadly shy museum
A new museum has recently opened its doors in downtown Los Angeles thanks to art collectors and philanthropists Eli & Edythe Broad. The couple, through their foundation, has taken many initiatives concerning art, civic, education and science projects.
The “Broad” museum covers a surface of about 11.150m2, cost about $140 million and was designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro design studio featuring what the architects call the “vault and veil” concept.
In order to understand the designer’s intention and comprehend the final architectural solution, firstly we have to break this principle down to its two core meanings that derive from the word “vault” and the word “veil”.
The vault is a secure room used to protect the valuables it holds inside. What would be more appropriate than this vault is located at the very heart of the building on the second floor and accommodates the art collections of the museum that are not open for the public. It is a shield, a safe place to be if you like. Ask someone to tell you the first things that would pop in his/her mind concerning the word vault and I’m certain that the answers would include protection, safety, boxy, sturdiness, solid, massy, compact, impervious, thick etc. As far as semiotics is concerned then, I expect to see some of these values reflected on the building on some level at least. At a first glace the only thing that is clear is the boxy shape of the building, but the other characteristics are not there, or to be more accurate, they could exist but something is obscuring my view.
This is the point where the veil enters the equation in order to play this part of mystification. A veil is a piece of opaque, transparent, or mesh material used to hide whatever is underneath it. This mantle is working as a kind of “skin” for the vault, a very specific wrapping material, which has a very specific task to accomplish. Its primary function is to hide the vault, create an exterior that allows light into the vault and in my opinion to excite the passer’s-by imagination about what might be inside the building, by lifting its “skirt” a little bit in the corner. Apart from a… seducing technic, this manipulation also signifies the museum’s entrance, which leads directly to the third floor and the beginning of the gallery spaces. The later are continued on the first floor, interrupted by the second floor where the conference room is located, the only space accessible by visitors in the vault. This is not a “crack in the scenario” though and the designers are not dishonest to their vault-veil principle.
On the contrary, they introduce a third characteristic, that is not playing a leading role, but manages to claim some of the glory from the bipolar logic of the main idea and they call it “oculus”. In other words, it is an eye. It is a breach in the exterior skin that penetrates through the solid mass of the second floor that allows light into the conference room.
As a whole, the architectural solution is solid and does not deviate from the basic principal that was adopted by the design team. The vault represents a box that protects the valuables it has in its storage and the veil excites us from the outside raising the question of what is underneath, working exactly like as a covering on a bride’s face, thus forming a shy and introvert total.
From a museological point of view the outer façade with its honeycomb-like appearance is porous, absorptive and provides as much light is needed for the exhibits but not over-exposure.
In general, the exterior is not competing the art collections that are accommodated inside, which is a completely conscious decision from the architects because simply it’s what inside that counts. According to my judgement it’s a clearly balanced example between architectural synthesis / creativity and museological values / principles, featuring modest choices.