Modern Meets Mature: The New (Old) Olive Tree Orchard at LA’s Broad Museum

Walter Hood and his team of landscape architects create a unique green space at the renowned Broad Museum in Los Angeles, planting more than a dozen century-old olive trees


A contemporary art museum in Downtown Los Angeles, “The Broad” — officially opening in 2015 — was developed thanks to $140 million in financing from philanthropists Eli and Edythe Broad. Designed by Diller Schofield + Renfro (DS+R), the award-winning facility features a signature “veil”: an angled honeycomb-like exterior that transmits sunlight inside. The adjacent space was also given thoughtful consideration: a unique courtyard (above the underground parking garage), created by Hood Design, serves as a small urban “oasis” in the heart of the city and as a more traditional ambiance counterpoint to the modern design of the museum. An open grassy area is abutted by two hardscape plazas, each one shaded by hundred-year-old northern California olive trees — which, thanks in part to the Silva Cell system and its lightly compacted soil, are continuing to flourish in their new SoCal home.

Installation Summary

Number of Silva Cells: 120 (3x)

Number of Trees: 13

Total Soil Volume: 4,111 ft3

Type of Project: Plaza, On-Structure

Project Designer: Hood Design

Project Contractor: Pierre Landscape

Installation Date of Silva Cells: Summer 2014

The Stunning New Broad Museum

Housing nearly 2,000 pieces of contemporary art, the Broad Museum in Downtown Los Angeles opened in September 2015 — a celebrity-studded gala attended by Bill Clinton, Reese Witherspoon, Larry King, and others. “The Broad” first came to life in 2010 when philanthropists Eli and Edythe Broad signed a 99-year lease on the city property and donated $140 million for the facility’s construction, which was designed by Diller Schofield + Renfro (DS+R).

The result, an eye-catching modern structure erected at the corner of Grand Avenue and Second Street, is now the crown jewel of the Bunker Hill neighborhood. The Broad Museum’s website describes its own design as merging two key components of the building: the vault and the veil. “Rather than relegate the storage to secondary status, the ‘vault’ plays a key role in shaping the museum experience from entry to exit [and] stores the portions of the collection not on display in the galleries or on loan. The vault is enveloped on all sides by the ‘veil,’ an airy, honeycomb-like structure that spans across the block-long gallery and provides filtered natural daylight.”

The Broad is the first art museum in Los Angeles to receive LEED Gold certification, embracing sustainable practices from electric charging stations to rooftop rainwater drains. An important component of the development was also the adjacent outdoor space: a gathering area between the museum and the affordable housing complex next door (built using money donated by the Broads). DS+R envisioned a vibrant green space and, to help bring the vision to reality, partnered with Hood Design — a lauded landscape architecture firm out of Oakland led by Walter Hood and responsible for memorable projects across the nation, from the Wildlife Art Sculpture Terrace in Wyoming to the Cooper Hewitt Garden in New York City.

Hood and his team created a dynamic mixed-use space, able to be used as a visitor resting/gathering space and as a host site for performances and art exhibitions. The design of the area also serves as a natural, traditional counterpoint — an inviting balance of ambiance — to the modernity of the museum and the bustling urban environment at large. As noted by DS+R, the outdoor spaces is “characterized by dappled sunlight, crushed stone paving, and flowering groundcover, the bosque provides a buffer and counterpoint to activity on the street.”

Indeed, it was important that The Broad’s courtyard space fit within the neighborhood itself, serving the community as a public green space. Eli Broad stated that one of the primary purposes of the courtyard was to “increase walkable outdoor green space to enhance the area and create a vibrant urban core.” One of the most important elements of any welcoming green space is the trees.

The Trees: Barouni Olive

The most striking feature of the new courtyard is the greenery: more than a dozen majestic Barouni olive trees. But not just any olive trees — these ultra-mature trees were planted in 1887 in an orchard in the Shasta Cascade region of Northern California. More than 125 years after their planting, they were transplanted to The Broad in Los Angeles and given new life in a small urban oasis, thanks in part to the Silva Cells. Its system ensures access to uncompacted soil for the roots to establish themselves and continue growing — thus, the trees remain healthy and stable in their new home. The on-structure application (above the underground parking garage) included upturned beams, which allowed for the necessary depth to install Silva Cells and the lightly compacted soil within.

Olive trees were a thoughtful, deliberate choice: the species is quite resilient against extreme environmental conditions, including drought and high temperatures. In the United States, they are grown primarily in the southern to western rim of the country — from Georgia to Northern California. Most of America’s olives come from California, which features over 26,000 acres of olive tree orchards. The tree is considered a symbol of friendship and love — and it has an average lifespan of 500 years.

Tree stumps, which serve as nature-style seating beneath the shady canopy, are also carved from mature olive trees planted in the same Northern California grove. The courtyard is the perfect complement to the awe-inspiring design of the museum itself, inviting people in with its open green grass and shady canopy in both hardscape plazas. The LA Times even referred to the olive trees as a “true work of art.”

Project Awards

For a list of awards bestowed on the Broad Museum, check out this page from their website.

Additional Resources

For other DeepRoot projects in California, check out these case studies:

Luskin Center, UCLA

Boulevard Community, Dublin

Market Street, San Francisco


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