Understanding the value and legacy of the Eli and Edythe Broad Museum

East Lansing's Grand River is well known by locals as a place of art, from the parking garage resembling a hamster cage to decorative bike racks of human figures and abstract shapes lining the sidewalk. But the most noticeable attraction is on the Michigan State University campus side, the gleaming, slanted figure of the Eli and Edythe Broad Museum. For those that don’t know it by name, questions are quick to arise like, “Is that a spaceship?” or, “What is that metal thing supposed to be?” or “Is that Lex Luthor’s house?”
The museum, commonly referred to as “the Broad,” is 46,000 square feet and has walls at both 70 and 75 degree angles, giving it a unique aesthetic both at a distance and up close. It features a wide variety of art forms in both its temporary and permanent collections. Among the pieces that live here are Greek and Roman antiquities, Renaissance illuminations 20th century sculptures, and 19th century American paintings. It was completed in November 2012. The focus on expanding its collection is on pieces created post 1945 and classified as “contemporary art.”
The interior is a stark contrast from the outside. There are few walls, and the ones that are there are made of glass. Light pours in from the outside slat windows, bouncing off the high ceilings and sleek floors. It feels like a concrete cathedral and is considered the largest piece of art the museum displays. Whitney Stoepel-Brewer, director of public relations at the museum says, “I love that it looks like a fortress from the outside and beautiful, open and light-filled peace inside.” It is a unique look that isn’t found in many art museums, adding an air of surreal wonder when visiting the exhibits.
This building was the vision of Dame Zaha Hadid, a British “starchitect.” She was born in Iraq October 31, 1950, and established her London-based architecture practice in 1980 after graduating from the British Architectural Association in 1972. She has 36 finished pieces around the world, with 13 other structures currently in construction phase. She was also a teacher throughout the years at universities like Yale, Harvard, and Columbia, spreading her knowledge to the next generation.
Dame Hadid was recognized by Forbes as one of the top 100 influential women in the world, by Time as an influential thinker, and by New Statesman as one of the top 50 influential people in the world. She was Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2002 and Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2012. She considered architecture a commitment that required all of her time and energy, and her long list of projects and awards show how it paid off.
The museum is now one of the few spaces that represent Dame Zaha Hadid’s lasting artistic vision in the U.S. due to her passing of a heart attack this year, at age 65 in Miami, Florida. Her pieces around the world are the fruition of her life's work and dedication to architectural innovation.
East Lansing is now a legacy space for one of the most famous, influential, and barrier-breaking architects of our time. The Broad was the second finished piece she designed in the U.S., the first being Cincinnati’s Contemporary Arts Center.
Stoepel-Brewer never met her personally, but expressed that it would have been an honor to do so. “She broke down so many barriers as a woman and an Iraqi. She was the first Arab woman to ever win the Pritzker Prize for architecture and was the first woman to win the RIBA gold medal.”
Stoepel-Brewer explains, “Like the Eiffel Tower in Paris or the Guggenheim in New York, The Broad MSU pushes architectural boundaries.” While it was initially considered an odd-looking building out of place, East Lansing is starting to shape itself around Hadid's famed geometric expression and embrace it as a symbol of the iconic nature embedded in the city.
The worldwide impact of the Broad doesn’t end with the building, but also the concrete used to make it. 560 lbs of a special blend of self-consolidating concrete had to be essentially invented to make this building happen in the way Dame Hadid wanted. Then it was mixed with powder and stained to give it the right shade of gray. This concrete was the focus of “The Perfect Mix,” part of the Altered Tour series, with a speech given by John Glenn Granger, president and CEO of Granger Construction Company. Dame Hadid aimed for a “perfect, concrete surface” according to Granger, which led to the development of bringing the building to life.
To make Dame Zaha Hadid's design come to life as the Broad, it took the work of local companies like, Granger and the City of East Lansing, working together to make it a reality. As Granger put it in his speech, “All concrete eventually cracks,” but the thought and care put into this museum will ensure it stands for many decades.
The Mid-Michigan community not only has a rare and innovative architectural structure in having the Broad. The museum provides free exhibits to the public on a daily basis, complete with staff willing to explain the journey of the art pieces within to all visitors, along with programming and outreach to the local schools, like the K–12 summer art camp and high school residencies.
It is an honor to have the work of Dame Zaha Hadid in Greater Lansing, and we are grateful for her vision and her imprint on our community.


Brittany Boza is a freelance writer for Capital Gains.
Photos © Dave Trumpie
Dave Trumpie is the managing photographer for Capital Gains. He is a freelance photographer and owner of Trumpie Photography.
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