Zaha Hadid Eli & Edythe Broad Art Museum Zaha Hadid Eli & Edythe Broad Art MuseumZaha Hadid Eli & Edythe Broad Art MuseumZaha Hadid Eli & Edythe Broad Art Museum

Bending Expectations

Wednesday, June 18th, 2014

By Emma Janzen
Images courtesy of Paul Warchol, Iwan Baan, and Hufton + Crow 

Museum architecture usually falls into one of two categories: clean-lined, passive structures that present a blank canvas to showcase the art inside, or museums where the building itself is a work of art. When it comes to the case of the Eli & Edythe Broad Art Museum, designed by internationally acclaimed architect Zaha Hadid, the building falls squarely in the latter category.

The 46,000-square-foot museum, which sits on the Michigan State University campus, presents a striking façade of pleated stainless steel and glass emerging from the traditional Gothic-style buildings of north campus, creating a gateway between the university and the East Lansing community, Hadid says.

The external design was influenced by a set of movement paths that traverse and border the site, helping the museum to both reflect and fit into the surroundings on a very basic level, Hadid says. “Its outer skin echoes these different directions and orientations – giving the building an ever-changing appearance that arouses curiosity yet never quite reveals its content.”

Creating the angles and directional pleats that define the project was no easy feat. “Generating two dimensional planes from these lines of circulation and visual connections, the formal composition of the museum is achieved by folding these planes in three-dimensional space to define an interior landscape which brings together and negotiates the different pathways on which people move through and around the site,” Hadid says.

To help negotiate the logistical issues with creating such an unusual, angular metal surface, Hadid partnered with the A. Zahner Company. The engineering and fabrication company had to develop an entirely new process of machining large stainless steel plates to deliver the final product.

“The Broad Art Museum was one of the most exacting architectural metal projects we have ever undertaken,” Bill Zahner says. “The challenge was to take thin metal plates and make it look as if it was milled from a large block of stainless steel. We were able to achieve a highly refined stainless steel surface by scaling up technology that once was stuck in the confines of fine machinery or jewelry.”

Through her audacious design and innovative implementation, Hadid succeeded at creating a work of art that reflects the university’s priorities. MSU president Lou Anna K. Simon agrees, saying, “great art deserves great architecture, and so does a great university. The Broad Museum’s bold concept and design reflect Michigan State’s ethos of connecting both campus and community to world-class innovation, global vision, and transformative opportunity.”

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