Broad Contemporary Art Museum Still Controversial

When it comes to exegesis of a particular project, it would be hard to beat this Architecture Week article by Leigh Christy, in which the author takes a detailed look at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) complex, and particularly at the Broad Contemporary Art Museum (BCAM). Christy’s piece adds value with many photos; site plan, section and elevation drawings; and links. (For the geo-curious, here’s a terrific zoom-in map.)

They’ve been trying to figure out what to do with LACMA for a long time, because of the lack of unity throughout the campus. A few years back, a plan to raze the whole thing to the ground and start over was nearly adopted. So when Renzo Piano Building Workshop and executive architect Gensler took on BCAM, it wasn’t only about a building. There was a very strong mandate to create a unifying element that would help pull the whole thing together – which is a heavy burden for a museum to bear, especially when it faces so many other tasks. Christy reports on the attempt:

Mimicking the solid masses of existing LACMA buildings, its limestone-clad walls proclaim “institution.” Rob Jernigan, Gensler’s principal-in-charge, observes that “the building is a simple, very well executed form that is beautiful and functionally driven. Purity, simplicity, ‘less is more’ – Renzo believes that.”

Renzo Piano is, of course, the Pritzker Award-winning architect with a list of completed and ongoing projects as long as your arm. The LACMA website says,

While Piano projects can vary greatly in concept and scope, what binds them together is the theme of lightness, the alliances between art and technology, attention to detail, and the relationship between architecture and the natural environment.

Christy cites the intricate detail found here as among the reasons why this project has brought Piano “one step closer to realizing the perfect gallery.” Comprising three stories, the building features two external exit staircases and an escalator that goes directly to the third story. Inside, six galleries of equal size are symmetrically arranged, and between them is a big red glass-walled elevator which Christy characterizes as a work of art in itself, and which some irreverent tourists cite as the most memorable feature of their visit.

Speaking of irreverence, New York Times architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff says “the entry pavilion evokes a gas station,” while a not-so-famous observer remarks that the roofline evokes the hairdo of cartoon character Calvin (of “Calvin and Hobbes”). Actually, the angular roof spires are carefully placed baffles that regulate the amount of indirect sunlight illuminating the top-floor galleries.

In the galleries, floating walls allow the inspiration of curators, rather than the exigencies of solid matter, to dictate their arrangement.

More structures are planned at the museum complex, and Piano is reported to have remarked informally, “The question is how you tie this mess together.” Christy says:

Piano noted in his architect’s statement: “I imagine LACMA as a blend of new and old buildings, each reflecting the values of its age. To unite them, we will carve through the site with the precision of a surgeon.”….Execution of subsequent phases, along with judicious programming of event spaces, therefore becomes crucial to the project’s long-term success.

Regarding the degree of success so far, the jury is still out.

SOURCE: ” Broad Contemporary Art Museum ” 05/07/08
photo courtesy of JoeBehrPalmSprings , used under this Creative Commons license

1 Response to “Broad Contemporary Art Museum Still Controversial”

  1. November 2, 2008 at 1:30 pm

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