Breaking new ground
|By Lawrence Cosentino|
Breaking new ground
Broad Museum builders put down their pens, pick up their shovels
On Tuesday morning, Kevin Waldman’s biggest headache was protecting big shots like architect Zaha Hadid, billionaire tycoon Eli Broad, Michigan State University president Lou Anna Simon and Gov. Jennifer Granholm from stepping in the March mud at the groundbreaking of MSU’s Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum.
“You don’t want to get Zaha Hadid’s shoes dirty,” Waldman said, gallantly. “Or the governor’s.”
These luminaries and others gathered at the museum site on Grand River Avenue in East Lansing Tuesday morning to grab a shovel and nudge Hadid’s daring design from the abstract to the concrete.
With the festive tent gone, Waldman’s headaches are about to get a lot bigger. Waldman is the project manager for Southfield-based Barton Malow, general contractor for what may be the highest-profile and most unusual architectural project the state has ever seen.
“You don’t go into a Zaha Hadid building with the idea that you’re going to come out the same,” said Linda Stanford, an associate provost and architecture professor at MSU. The same might be said for any city or university bold enough to build a Hadid. A Pritzker Prize-winning “starchitect” with visionary projects blossoming around the world, Hadid has completed only one building in the U.S., the Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art in Cincinnati.
At Tuesday’s ceremony, Hadid thanked the Broads for the “really amazing” gift that enabled her to work again in the United States, “a land where dreams come true.”
“When I was 5 or 6 years old, I thought you could reach the moon by climbing a ladder,” she said. “These dreams, especially in education, are very important. Even if you only get 95 percent of your goals, it’s still amazing.”
Hadid’s style is to sketch out curves, lines and fields of pure energy, pull them kicking and screaming into the material world and let them loose on some unsuspecting patch of Earth. Her Broad museum design is a crouching beast of angular steel plates like nothing else on the planet.
“This building should get a speeding ticket,” architecture critic and project advisor Joseph Giovannini said Tuesday.
Granholm called the design “dramatic and breathtaking.”
“This museum is going to be a tremendous visual experience,” Granholm said.
Hadid’s ultra-dynamic designs are particularly attractive to cities with something to prove.
Even Rome, the site of Hadid’s latest completed project, is using the Zaha cachet to brush up its image. In fall 2009, Hadid’s Museum of the Art of the XXIst Century, or Maxxi, was widely seen as a clear signal that the Eternal City was ready to look to the future. New York Times architecture critic Nicolai Ourousoff called the museum “a rebuke to those who still see Rome as a catalog of architectural relics for scholars or tourists.”
MSU and East Lansing are out to prove a thing or two as well.
For one thing, the old land-grant university is out to flex its growing international reach. Stanford compared the Broad Museum to other MSU ventures with international fame, such as the cyclotron and the College of Music.
Several speakers at Tuesday’s ceremony predicted a wave of international tourism.
Eugene Gargaro, board chairman of the Detroit Institute of Arts, said a million people have come to check out the museum’s $160 million renovation project.
“I believe the Broad Museum will do the same,” he said.
Closer to home, the museum’s location on the busy commercial strip along Grand River will decisively turn MSU toward its surroundings.
“We won’t have to tell you that we care about being a part of East Lansing,” Stanford said. “We’re right there, in your face, and that’s exactly what we want.”
Eli Broad said the museum would be “an important bridge to the community,” sucking in even people who are indifferent to art.
“I predict the curiosity factor will be too great for them to resist,” he said.
It took an extra year in the schedule, and $7 million to $12 million more than expected, to bring Hadid’s abstract lines of force to concrete reality. The final cost of the museum is estimated at $40 million to $45 million.
“The first piece of art you see is the building,” Waldman explained. “How do you put a time or a dollar figure to art?” But that’s just what had to happen. First, it was discovered that Hadid’s design was 15 percent bigger than the 42,000-square-foot minimum specified in the competition brief, said Craig Kiner, a member of Zaha Hadid’s team.
Hadid shrunk the building accordingly. Stanford and Waldman said the design’s unprecedented steel-clad exterior was the chief cause of the delay and cost overruns.
Kiner agreed that the envelope was “the most expensive component of the building.”
For a while, that was a major problem. A world-class museum has to maintain 50 percent humidity to keep Jackson Pollack’s drips from drying or Jeff Koons’ balloon animals from getting psoriasis. Consequently, the Broad museum will need triple-pane glass windows to keep moisture from condensing on the walls in cold weather.
An articulated armadillo of a building would have been cool, but very expensive.
“There’s a point at which it was fairly delicate,” he said.
Giovannini doesn’t like the term “decorative,” but the pleats won’t be integral to the wall. Instead, they’ll screen the sun and dazzle the eye — feathers for display, not for flight.
Hadid’s team agreed to the compromise because the visual impact would be the same.
That left another problem: Who can fabricate mega-cutlery on such a scale?
Doing the impossible for architects like Hadid is business as usual for Zahner.
With the façade issue resolved, Waldman found that other features were not negotiable.
Unlike Giovannini, Waldman said he never doubted that the building would break ground.
Broad (rhymes with “road”), one of the world’s top contemporary art collectors, pledged $28 million for the MSU museum: $21 million for construction and $7 million for acquisitions, exhibition set-up and operational expenses. It’s the largest
Stanford said there is an important difference between the L.A. County Museum and MSU’s Broad Museum.
“This institution has an academic responsibility to the state and to the world,” she said.
“I’ve found him to be very straightforward and reasonable — very different from what
There Waldman learned a lot about one of Hadid’s favorite themes, exposed concrete.
“Around here, exposed concrete is more of an industrial type look,” he said. “There, it’s part of the art.”
That’s when Waldman expects his blood pressure to reach its highest point.