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'Honeycomb' Wrapper Keeps Broad Museum Team on Its Toes

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Another description-defying building—which resembles a honeycomb with sharp edges—is taking shape in Los Angeles, directly across the street from the mother lode of nontraditional architecture—the Walt Disney Concert Hall. The Broad, a $140-million museum for contemporary art, is nowhere near as impossible to render into a three-dimensional object as was architect Frank Gehry's exuberant music palace. Still, it is not at all simple to build, says the contractor.

Photo courtesy of Cupertino Electric
The Broad's veil allows indirect natural light to penetrate the interior.
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Called a vault in a veil—the museum will actually store as well as display art—the 120,000-sq-ft building is extremely challenging to construct thanks to its asymmetry and its amorphous shape, says Roger Fricke, senior vice president of preconstruction for the job's general contractor, Santa Fe Springs-based MATT Construction.

For help, the building team turned to a 3D modeling tool called Digital Project, developed by Gehry Technologies. "The reason for using DP is the complicated nature of the shapes and the geometry of the building," Fricke says. "It is the most robust modeling software that we know of right now."

The museum, designed by New York City-based Diller Scofidio + Renfro (DS+R) with the local Gensler as executive architect, is joining the downtown's cultural center along Grand Avenue.

Its noted neighbor influenced the architecture. "We wanted something that would not clash with the Walt Disney Concert Hall, but we didn't want it to be anonymous either," says philanthropist Eli Broad, founder of the museum with his wife, Edythe. The Broad Art Foundation is building the project.

The three-story building consists of a structural concrete core with window openings surrounded by a honeycomb-like wrapper. The building sits atop three levels of underground parking that contains 366 spaces in a total of 155,000 sq ft.

The museum's light and openness are major elements of an elaborate veil exterior of trapezoidal concrete panels, which cover and flow around the vault building like a giant net. Set for completion in March, the veil will have a large dimple, or oculus, in its face.

Elizabeth Diller, DS+R co-founder and principal, calls the cover "porous and brittle" to present a counterpoint to the neighboring concert hall's shiny and smooth metallic finish.

Not Just a Pretty Face

The veil is made of 2,500 fiberglass-reinforced concrete panels with more than 400 different trapezoidal shapes. The panels are attached to a 650-ton structural steel "net" backing. The net is attached to the concrete structural shear wall of the building at two points, on 2nd Street and on GTK Way.

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