One of the firsts to make her mark in the then male-dominated podium of ‘avant-garde’ architecture, Zaha Hadid was an Iraqi-born British architect who believed in the importance of outspoken architecture facilitating every life. Disgruntled by the act of any striking form or skewed structure being reduced to the general idea of an overachieving image and a grand statement, she had made it her practice’s aim to create designs that blurred the division between landscape and structure; creating an identity for its setting as well as itself. One such structure, standing right to its Hadid-Esque stroke with an asymmetrical dynamism dancing its way through a synthesis of a multifaceted façade made of glass and steel ‘pleats’ and an interior changing its form from time to time -creating a dynamic flow- is the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum.

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Covering a site area of 65,000 m², the Eli and Edythe Broad art museum places itself at the northern edge of the MSU campus, facing the Grand River Avenue. Serving an exposed location housing an active and varied urban life, it gives birth to a new series of connections- visual and physical- among the campuses, Grand River Avenue, benefiting as an interface between the city and the campus. This design unveils itself as an introduction to contemporary art, to replace the setting of an old provincial museum, doing justice to the institution housed within. The design aims to present itself as an inviting gateway into the Michigan University campus, shedding the mild-mannered image of the area along with it. Fulfilling the aim with utmost sincerity, this building is the foreground of a traditional brick background, symbolizing its emerging status. 

While the building creates its own identity by presenting a contrast against the dull, cubic brick structures around, the context merges beautifully into the fabric, accepting it as its own. The sharp-edged edifice, in itself, is the product of an in-depth analysis of the topographic characteristics and the circulation of the area. The 70- and 75-degree angles imitate those of the footpaths and pedestrian crossings around it. All the pathways and channels that cross, approach, or even glance at the museum’s site have been considered, many of them having been engulfed in the structure itself, giving the design a flawless urban connect. The façade and its dynamic angles have been derived from the context by folding the 2D lines of the circumventing paths onto the building, creating an ‘Urban Carpet’.

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The building plays with the hours of the day, putting on a different show every hour, through dynamic shadows, reflections, and artificial light at night. 

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The dynamism exhibited by the stainless steel and glass façade serves as a flag for the ideology of the structure. The stainless-steel slats echo the different directions around the site, giving the building an ever-changing experience. The course of the pleating changes just at the level at which the eye is about to get used to the flow, arousing curiosity. The insides of these pleats are lined with glass, serving as windows to the outer world. The directions of the pleats are such that someone inside the museum can see and associate with every part of the surrounding context, blurring the lines between the inside and the outside. As for those marveling from the outside, the slats give away just enough of the interior to raise interest but not reveal the actual ‘secret inside’. This character of the design makes it a manifestation of the concord between the society, inside and outside, producing a strong message.

The sharp, directed edifice of the Eli and Edythe museum seems to be dancing to its music, while standing still, with the light. The sunlight breaks into a multitude of directions as it touches any part of the structure, bouncing off of one course to another, creating interesting shadows on the façade; while exploding into a well-lit form on the inside. In the absence of sunlight, the building glows from within, creating silhouettes on the ribs and openings. The converging and diverging lines create a multi-perspective experience, enlarging one’s perception of the otherwise compact building. Hence, not only does the building manager raise curiosity but also elasticizer perception. Just as one moves inside, they lose themselves in angular, high rooms that widen and narrow with distance, creating an unintentional, dynamic flow. The walls alternate between straight and leaning, having a natural effect on the speed, interest as well as the concentration of the user. The interiors of the structure inherit the dynamism of the outside in the form of trapezoidal rooms, leaning walls, and sloping ceilings, with no two rooms being the same. While the exciting forms on the inside perpetuate the sense of discovery, the design works on an East-West axis, with central staircases and corridors, making the flow linear and supportive. The galleries, too, are supportive of the art forms, leaving no reason for the curators of exhibitions to have to fight for the appropriation of spaces. 

The exciting interiors of the museum, a section of the museum.

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While the whole structure is an innovation in itself, with the directional steel slats, the induced urban landscape, sloping roofs, etc., the structural information makes it even more exciting. Recognizing the shortcomings of concrete concerning its precision, the load-bearing walls use a unique mix of self-consolidating concrete, giving sharper crispier details. The concrete further helps provide thermal mass and minimizes vibration. Cellular steel beams and trusses come to the rescue, where concrete is unable to suffice the requirements of the design. 

This design is a clear exemplification of breaking the shackles of the classic learnings and adopting the ‘eccentric’ ideas of the contemporary.

Agamya Goyal
Author

Currently in the fourth year of her B. Arch. course, Agamya Goyal is a voracious reader and writing enthusiast. Her curiosity in social issues, the simplicities of spaces, and its working with people are what help her garner ideas. Holding her interests in landscape, traveling, and poetic documentation, she believes that a well-brewed coffee is an exemplary companion.

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