Bent Space
UCLA | AUD | Instr. Hadrian Predock

The central second floor area of the Broad Art Center, originally designed as an open-plan hall for the winter and a breezeway for the summer, has since been divided into a north-south circulation space on the east and a cafe on the west, by means of an interior partition running in the north-south direction. The resulting spaces—the hallway and the cafe—are transected by an east-west interior circulation route on their south side, which is acknowledged by a door in the new interior partition and by the arrangements of the furnishings in the cafe.

The current situation has some satisfactory and some unsatisfactory elements. For example, some degree of intimacy is achieved for the cafe by means of the wall. Also, the implied separation of the cafe area from the east-west circulation channel is achieved to some extent by the its coincidence with a structural column line.

However, the circulation areas are unsatisfactory for several reasons. Firstly, the east-west circulation route suffers from the condition that although it is primary, those using it must pass from room to room rather than circulate directly, as through a hallway. Secondly, the new partition is undesirable from the perspective of north-south circulation in the sense that it is too much off-axis for a passage, though not enough for a room, creating a highly uncomfortable, poorly-lit mongrel space.

The driving intention of the alternative proposed here is to create clear and distinct cafe and circulation zones by a means that doesn’t require the opacity so at fault in the current solution. Physical attributes of steam-bent tubular sections of beechwood are considered in the design.

The scheme is based on three strategies. First, in the cafe area is deployed a dense hypostyle of eight-part beechwood columns, of which each part is steam-bent into an ogee and connected orthogonally and diagonally in an overhead lattice analogous to a system of cross-vaulting. Second, the perimeter of the hypostyle is inset with units of two-way mirror glass. The mirror-finish is applied in a vertical gradient that allows different views into and out of the cafe. From within the cafe, the upper two thirds of the glass are mirrored inward in a manner that serves to visually extend the hypostyle infinitely at standing eye-level up to the ceiling, as in Loos’ American Bar. At sitting eye-level and below, however, the glass gradually becomes transparent from the inside, allowing views into the circulation space for those sitting, while preserving a sense of continuity and depth above. This effect is reversed on the outside of the glass, allowing views into the cafe at standing eye-level while mirroring the ground plane. Third, due to the density of the columniation of the hypostyle, furniture arrangement in the space is limited to a certain number of functional configurations. As such, furniture groupings tend to rely on local, axial symmetries, which enhance the mirror symmetries created by the mirrors themselves, further reducing a visual sense of enclosure.

Overall, a complex set of visual relationships emerge, distinguished by the viewer’s position in either the circulation or the cafe area. The cafe remains self-contained, but with a new sense of centeredness extending to the cafe’s peripheries. The circulation spaces, meanwhile, are improved by the removal of barriers and the expansion of their volume visually, as well as with the provision of the visual interest of the infinite cafe space.