I recently had the opportunity to visit two significant pieces of architecture separated by more than 90 years of architectural development. The first being the re-opening of the Hollyhock House by Frank Lloyd Wright in East Hollywood and the other being the Broad Museum by Diller Scofidio + Renfro located in Downtown Los Angeles.
At their core, the buildings are surprisingly similar. Both are or were intended to house artwork and create a larger cultural impact than the respective structures themselves. Both use their materiality to create a shield to mask the intentions of the interior. In both cases, this is done with concrete which gives both structures a massive somewhat uninviting feeling as one approaches. You get a sense as you approach each project that something is happening inside but you can’t tell exactly what it is. If you are the inquisitive type, it then becomes your goal to find out exactly what that is and explore as much as you can - which of course is much more acceptable in the case of an art gallery or a museum compared to a private residence.
Wright has used this tactic of confusing the spectator in many of his projects to protect the privacy of the buildings inhabitants. The idea being that the harder the building is to read from the exterior, the harder it is to understand the goings on happening on the interior. If you think of the art on display as being as temperamental as an individual seeking privacy, it seems to make sense in both cases to mask the activities inside. Both do use little moments to give a small glimpse into the interiors which of course can only be viewed from certain angles or location. Both designs are very clever in this way in that the Hollyhock uses this to hide the private life of the residence and shield them from the world whereas the Broad uses it to tease the spectator into coming inside and experiencing what the gallery has to offer.
Even the location of the buildings adds to this notion of hiding themselves. Albeit in somewhat different circumstances. The Hollyhock nestles itself on a hill in Hollywood surrounded by nature whereas the Broad perches itself on a hill in the heart of downtown and surrounds itself with design somewhat becoming lost within the forest of new architecture that is finding its way to the new downtown.
When one enters both of the spaces, the similarities begin to fall away quite rapidly. The language of the 2 buildings is vastly different. The Hollyhock can be considered a complete piece of design. Each detail, fixture, piece of furniture has been carefully planned and laid out to achieve an overall harmony and atmosphere throughout the house. The Broad uses the modern take on detail and attempts to fade them together to create a larger whole rather than letting them speak for themselves in a larger narrative. In doing so there seems to be a disconnect in some places and the reading of the building becomes a bit jagged. Now granted this is not the intention of the Broad. Being a museum and a gallery space, the goal is for the building as to not distract from the more “interesting” works on display. It appears the space with achieve this goal quite well. The entire space was lit using natural light with absolutely no shadows cast. The engineering and design of the lighting within the space was incredible. It is a shame however, that the space will not remain in its open state but rather be filled with partitions to divide the space. One little nod that was similar within the interiors was the use of narrow low spaces to open into a vast large space. This is of course a trademark of Frank Lloyd Wright to use a low narrow corridor to open into the vast living spaces with the residence. It was a nice little to detail to see within the Broad in that to enter the gallery space you have the option of traveling on the narrow escalator in a low corridor and arrive in the vast open gallery space. Just nice to know that some tricks will never grow old.
Overall, it was extremely interesting to visit both of these sites within a matter of days. It is one of the things that amazes me about architecture. Here we have two seemingly different projects that on their own have a character and a presence yet are also part of a greater whole that makes up the extremely diverse nature of the city. It helps to highlight the growth of larger metropolitan area that must occur naturally, in terms of architecture and design, to create a greater harmony within a city as large as Los Angeles.
- Andrew Raffel, Designer at Ilan Dei Studio