Gefilte fish. Tripas. Cheese grater. Packing material. Scratching post. Coral. Except for the last, provided by the building’s architect, Diller Scofidio + Renfro, all of these visual allusions suggest that Los Angeles’s new Broad Museum—which houses Eli and Edythe Broad’s 2,000-piece contemporary art collection—is in stiff competition for the free-association sweepstakes waged by its neighbor, Frank Gehry’s Disney Concert Hall. Who can forget the sweeping romanticism of Herbert Muschamp on Gehry’s Guggenheim Bilbao (the older brother of Disney): “It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s Superman. It’s a ship, an artichoke, the miracle of the rose.”
Critics searching for what the Broad looks like aren’t searching the skies or the waves, but the supermarket aisles. The museum, which opened September 20, is a three-story box clad in porous panels made of white glass-fiber-reinforced-concrete (GRFC). It’s not meant to be romantic, organic, or referential—except perhaps to 1960s Los Angeles, when the white, porous concrete facades of Malcolm Leland’s American Cement Building (1964) and Eliot Noyes’s IBM Aerospace Headquarters (1963) attempted to provide shade, pattern, and roadside identity without BIG HONKING LETTERS. Leland and Noyes both started their patterns one story up. Without an office building’s height to play with, Diller Scofidio + Renfro have reintroduced their favorite wedge as an entrance detail, lifting the curtain at each of the building’s four corners, inviting you to scoot inside.