A Whisper on Wilshire - Renzo Piano's BCAM

I had the fabulous opportunity today to get a tour of the LA County Museum of Art's (LACMA) new addition Broad Contemporary Art Museum (BCAM) on a day when the museum is closed and there were no crowds. (Well except for a small camera crew who were filming a scene for a soap opera).

Back of BCAM

Generally, I have been rather impressed with the work of Renzo Piano (the Italian architect who was commissioned for this project). His designs tend to be much more sensitive and attuned to the environment and the building's purpose. An old friend of mine who had worked for Renzo Piano in the past, told me that Piano had turned down a lucrative offer to design a skyscraper in Dubai because he felt that type of building was at odds with the climate of Dubai. I respect that. While a graduate student at MIT, I had the good fortune to meet Renzo Piano, albeit briefly. He was preparing to give talk on his work at the architecture school and was standing outside the auditorium alone, rehearsing his speech. I went up to him with a book of his work in hand and sheepishly asked if he would sign my book. He looked up from his notes and smiled and said in accented English, "Maybe you would like to wait until after my talk, maybe it is no good and you will not want me to sign your book then...." As an architecture groupie, as my friends then called me, it was definitely not the response I would expect from a world renowned architect,especially given the egos that float about out there. It is a moment I remember fondly.

Needless to say, I was curious to finally see the building that was being written in newspapers globally.

The building as seen on Wilshire Boulevard
Chris Burden's Urban Light (150 restored cast iron street lamps)
While I think the choice of the cream colored travertine is a beautiful, warm material for the facade; and like the Pompidou, I think the bright red exterior circulation, in place like LA which has great weather year round, is successful - I still feel however, that the design of this building did not live up to its full potential for a couple reasons.

The city of Los Angeles is so incredibly spread out that you can drive for miles and miles and see nothing but the never ending architecture of strip malls and bland mid-rise buildings, all of which are mind numbingly similar and unremarkable. So on such a significant artery as Wilshire Boulevard is in Los Angeles, I think there was a tremendous opportunity to make some sort of significant landmark or statement. In a car speeding past on Wilshire Boulevard, you might not even notice the building, if not for the huge hanging banners. And while there are unfortunately few pedestrians in Los Angeles, the facade on its own also does not encourage foot traffic or arouse curiosity. I definitely think that this was a missed opportunity.

Additionally, the careful studies of light that made the Menil Collection in Houston so successful seems somewhat lacking in this building. (Granted the Menil Collection is only one story building). The first and second floors of BCAM have limited if any natural light. And while this perhaps allows the art to be more the focus, the space is not as uplifting and airy as even the more recent addition to the Morgan Library in New York City tends to be.
The Menil Collection, Houston (1986)

Expansion of the Morgan Library, New York (2006)
A worker cleaning the glass ceiling on the third floor of BCAM
(Notice the louvers that filter the light into the space)

I would nevertheless, recommend a visit if you are in Los Angeles. Not the most astute connoisseur of contemporary art, I enjoyed the art collection tremendously. Perhaps unknowingly that is a success of the building.

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