The Broad Is L.A.’s Latest Paradox

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The Broad Is L.A.’s Latest Paradox

From its downtown yet off-the-path location, to the tension between its exhilarating raw space and the need to fill that space with art, The Broad should keep Los Angeles talking.

When the most prominent philanthropist and art collector in Los Angeles hires the hottest architects in New York to design a museum to go up right next to Los Angeles’s most famous recent building—well, you know people are going to pay attention. That, of course, is part of the purpose of The Broad, the long-awaited new museum commissioned by Eli Broad, designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro, and positioned right beside Frank Gehry’s Walt Disney Concert Hall. It opens to the public this weekend, and I don’t think people in L.A. have talked about a museum this much since the Getty opened almost 18 years ago.

The two museums make a striking contrast, and not only because the billionaire who funded the Getty, J. Paul Getty, had nothing whatsoever to do with its planning (he left the funds in his will), and Eli Broad and his wife, Edythe, are still very much around. Broad is probably as engaged an architectural client as there is. The Getty is located on a hilltop site in Brentwood, miles from downtown Los Angeles, and has been widely criticized for being aloof and distant. Why couldn’t it be downtown, and look and feel accessible? Broad located his museum as if to respond to the Getty’s hauteur: it is right on Grand Avenue downtown, and you can actually walk past it and decide to go in.

If anyone will walk past it, that is. The curiosity of Los Angeles is that vastly more people drive past the Getty on the 405 freeway every day than will ever stroll past the Broad on the sidewalk. The city’s civic leaders, led by Eli Broad, have been trying to turn the Bunker Hill section of downtown into a cultural district for years, but the effort has always seemed antithetical to the city’s D.N.A. Grand Avenue, the wide, empty boulevard that is the spine of this would-be acropolis, has high architectural ambitions—the Broad joins not only Walt Disney Concert Hall but also the Museum of Contemporary Art, by Arata Isozaki—yet great buildings alone do not make a vibrant urban center, great streets do. It’s true that downtown L.A. has a lot more energy today than it did a decade ago, but most of that is due to the revival of older buildings many blocks away that have been turned into artists’ lofts, apartments, and hotels. The Grand Central Market and the Ace Hotel have a buzz that Grand Avenue, despite its architectural ambitions, can’t seem to equal. []

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