Eli Broad is a little further along in his plans for a downtown museum than you might have guessed.
Even as he continues to negotiate with city and county officials and with representatives of developer Related Cos. about building a museum to hold his collection of postwar and contemporary art on Bunker Hill, the billionaire philanthropist and his chief of staff, Gerun Riley, have been running an invited architectural competition for the project.
According to a list of participating firms seen by The Times — and confirmed in a statement by Broad Monday afternoon — the competition was loaded from the start with high-profile firms. Of the six architects asked to present preliminary designs last week for a site on the corner of Grand Avenue and 2nd Street, four are winners of the Pritzker Prize, the field's most prestigious award.
They include Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas and his firm Office for Metropolitan Architecture; Swiss pair Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron; French architect Christian de Portzamparc; and Japanese duo Ryue Nishizawa and Kazuyo Sejima, whose Tokyo firm, SANAA, is the winner of this year's Pritzker.
The other firms asked to take part: New York-based Diller, Scofidio & Renfro, designers of the 2006 Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, among other projects, and London's Foreign Office Architects.
According to a source with knowledge of the competition – who asked not to be named, citing the confidentiality of the process – a group of architectural advisors organized by Broad last Wednesday narrowed the six firms to two finalists. They are Koolhaas and Diller, Scofidio & Renfro.
Broad has said he wants to move quickly on the museum; assuming he can win the needed site approvals without significant delays, he hopes to open its doors by 2012 or 2013.
Aside from wide name recognition, there is little that ties together the work of the firms invited to take part in the competition. SANAA, which has museums in New York and Toledo, Ohio, to its credit, is known for spare, nearly weightless compositions, while Herzog & de Meuron, designer of the de Young Museum in San Francisco and an addition to the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, often wraps its intelligently arranged buildings in unusual, eye-catching skins.
Koolhaas, whose firm designed the Seattle Central Library and produced a master plan for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art that was never built, is known for an emphasis on aggressively unorthodox form-making that is a far cry from the gem-like designs of de Portzamparc. Aside from the ICA in Boston, Diller, Scofidio & Renfro are best known for theoretical projects and a collaboration with landscape architect James Corner on the High Line elevated park in Manhattan. The firm is also working on a multi-phase renovation of New York's Lincoln Center.
Despite the severe blow dealt to California architects by the recession, the last several weeks have yielded a bumper crop of news on museum plans and architectural shortlists in the state. The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art announced last week that it is considering four firms for a new wing holding 100,000 square feet of exhibition space. Late last month, the U.C. Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive revealed that three firms are competing to design its new home in downtown Berkeley.
Notably, Diller, Scofidio & Renfro appear on all three shortlists, for Grand Ave., San Francisco and Berkeley. Just as notable, perhaps, is that the six firms asked by Broad to submit designs include none from California.
Broad envisions a three-story Grand Avenue museum with roughly 40,000 square feet of top-floor exhibition space, along with offices for the Broad Art Foundation. The proposed site is across 2nd Street from Gehry's Walt Disney Concert Hall and across Grand from Arata Isozaki's 1986 Museum of Contemporary Art.
Broad knows both of those buildings intimately, of course. He was the founding chairman of MOCA and more recently helped bail the museum out of a deep financial hole. And he was instrumental in reviving the concert hall project after it stalled in the 1990s.
Officially, Broad maintains that he is still considering a second potential museum site, in the Santa Monica civic center.
"We look forward to making a decision on both the site and the architect later this spring," his statement said.