The Big Stretch

By Lawrence Cosentino

MSU’s Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum, from gift to groundbreaking

A painting class was in full swing at the Michigan State University art building on Sept. 15, 2004, when a white-haired, 71-year-old man poked his head in the doorway.

“Hello,” he said.

Brushes went down and heads turned. The pause was just long enough for everybody to think, “Who is this guy?”

But Eli Broad had already moved on.

For exactly 55 minutes, the MSU alumnus, real estate and banking tycoon, philanthropist and collector of modern art walked the linoleum floors of the 54-year-old facility, including the cramped Kresge Art Museum. Broad’s escort was MSU development officer Mark Terman.

“We walked floor by floor and around the whole property,” Terman recalled. “He was poking his nose in every nook and cranny and walking right into classes in session.”

MSU’s drive to raise money for a bigger art museum had stalled. It seemed only natural to ask Broad, who endowed MSU’s business school in 1991, for help.

But Broad was profoundly unimpressed by the art building and its mid-campus location.

The next morning, he told MSU President Lou Anna Simon he wasn’t interested in bankrolling the project. But if a good site could be found for a new, freestanding building, they could talk.

Broad’s trips to MSU aren’t frequent, but they are momentous. His most recent was last month.

That evening, with Terman at the wheel, Broad and his wife, Edythe, cruised eastward on Grand River and looked into the stainless steel maw of the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum.

Four and a half years earlier, Broad’s $28 million gift — the biggest ever from an individual donor — spurred MSU to stab the sky with a swooping, steel-clad contemporary art museum, designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Zaha Hadid, and brazenly plant it on the main campus drag. Broad sat in the passenger’s seat next to Terman.

“Look at this!” Broad cried out to his wife.

Ribs of light rippled the museum’s dark skin. Lines of force beamed from its steel pleats, fanned out across the landscape and traced unseen possibilities into the night air.

“The building looks like it’s ready to take off,” Edythe Broad said.

Eli Broad scanned Grand River Avenue for new hotels and noted that there weren’t any — yet. They joked about the Taco Bell across the street.

The car grew quiet when the party turned right on Collingwood Drive, rounded the tapered tail of the crouching steel mass and turned onto East Circle Drive.

“The joy on his face was priceless,” Terman said.

Terman parked the car. The Broads made their way under a steep cliff of triple-paneled argon-filled glass, past a discreet steel ribbon bearing their names, into the west entrance. They toured the galleries with the museum’s founding director, Michael Rush.

“This just exceeds my expectations,” Edythe Broad’s voice echoed in the empty rooms. Always the practical developer, Eli Broad seemed to spend more time rummaging in the power plant and service area than in the galleries.

Like most visitors, the Broads were shocked at the size of the interior galleries. They seemed too large to fit inside the building’s mysterious, ground-hugging shell.

As if on cue, Simon called Terman via cell phone from a meeting in Chicago. Terman handed the phone to both Broads, who congratulated the president.

Before heading back to the airport, Broad asked Terman to turn south and make a quick pass by the Broad College of Business, which he had endowed in 1991. After all, art isn’t everything.

Dropkick me, Eli

“You don’t go into a Zaha Hadid building with the idea that you’re going to come out the same,” Linda Stanford declared.

Stanford, an architectural expert and key MSU point person on the Broad Museum project, was talking about the museum’s one-of-a-kind design, but the same might be said for any city or university bold enough to build a Hadid.

President Simon, for one, came out of the last five years different than she went in.

“I didn’t enter this project as the strongest advocate for contemporary art,” she admitted.

Stanford said Broad made his gift to MSU on the condition that the museum would be devoted to post 1945 art. Broad’s own tastes turned decisively to contemporary art in the 1980s. He champions its value as a creative stimulus and document of our time. (See related story, “Contact Buzz,” Page 23.)

“It’s good to have that kind of energy and thought and creativity, rather than being stuck, frankly, the way a lot of people in the Midwest are stuck with tradition,” Broad said in a phone interview last month.

True to his maximum-impact philanthropic style, Broad wanted to dropkick the university into the top tier of world museums. He urged Simon to think as big as possible.

“He told me he felt that art museums could be very important game-changers for communities,” Simon said. The original plan of expanding the Kresge Art Museum wouldn’t give Broad nearly enough bang for the buck. “Number one: The site there was too constrained,” Broad said. “Number two: If we’re going to build a museum, why don’t we have it serve not only the university, but all of central Michigan?”

Simon thought it over.

“I went back to him with an idea of building something in a different place,” she said.

“I’m glad she did,” Broad said.

Before a Spartan football game in fall 2007, Simon took Broad to a few potential sites, including the old Michigan Police Station across Harrison Road from the Breslin Center and a vacant plot of land near the intersection of Shaw and College Lane, across from the College of Education. Nothing looked right.

When they drove to a wooded site near the Collingwood entrance of MSU on Grand River Avenue, Broad lit up.

The Paolucci Building, built in 1947 as a home economics lab and most recently a child development center, stood vacant among about 60 sycamores and oaks, some a century old.

The site had a tucked-away feel, yet it was a stone’s throw from the bustle of East Lansing. Retail windows and ivy-covered walls looked across the street at each other.

“He became excited,” Simon said. “He felt that for the museum to be transformational, not simply for the university but for the surrounding community, the location on Grand River made a lot of sense.”

Terman saw the chance for a major breakthrough.

“When we built Wharton Center, as successful as it is, it’s rather buried on campus,” he said. “[Simon] really wanted a statement, right on the edge of campus.”

Later, architect Zaha Hadid would take full advantage of the site, plugging her winning design into the overt and hidden circuitry of the surrounding sidewalks, streets and invisible convergences.

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.

Graham Beal, director of the Detroit Institute of Arts, said the placement of the museum was a masterstroke.

“It’s situated exactly where a college art museum needs to be, the junction of town and gown, the college and the larger community,” said Beal, who served on the Broad Museum’s advisory committee. “It needs to consider communities that overlap to a degree but also do not.”

For the first time, MSU would punch a hole in its northern battlements and face the world.

No quiet, please

Broad felt that the museum project and its high-profile site screamed for a top architect, to be chosen with a level of ceremony unheard of at MSU.

“Eli was adamant that there needed to be an architectural competition,” Simon said.

But which firms, and how many, would be invited to compete?

From 2004 to 2007, the MSU team had a series of meetings in New York. In various combinations, Simon, Terman, Stanford, Provost Kim Wilcox and MSU design administrator Dan Bollman huddled with Broad and another philanthropy-minded, art-collecting MSU alumnus, Edward Minskoff. (Terman called Minskoff, a Manhattan developer and art collector, “an expert behind the scenes” on the project.) They met at Minskoff’s office, Broad’s Manhattan apartment and the library at the Museum of Modern Art.

The urbane Joseph Giovannini, an architecture critic for The New York Times and an architect in his own right, was brought in to guide the process.

Giovannini piled about 20 brochures and books in front of the MSU team.

“It was before I knew how to do PowerPoint,” he said.

Broad pushed for an “iconic” building. Wilcox asked for a “Sydney Opera House for our time — one that we can afford.” Minskoff, who later donated $2 million to the museum, said he didn’t like “curvy buildings.”

Simon tossed aside the minimalist architects in Giovannini’s stack. “Boring,” she would say. Serenity-and-light specialists like Renzo Piano, the Japanese firm SANAA and Tadao Ando (all Pritzker Prize winners) were out. Nor would MSU tolerate a blocky “culture bunker” like New York’s Whitney Museum.

“It was fascinating,” Terman said. “They would trot through materials from architect after architect.”

Giovannini was pleased with the university’s go-for-it attitude.

“You already had a quiet campus,” Giovannini said. “To put a quiet building in a quiet campus was not the right response. You wanted something that would carry the show.”

Terman watched as Simon led the university’s long, sometimes painful stretch into the project and its potential.

“She’s a small-town Indiana girl, in her background, and a very practical thinker,” he said. “But she’s the one who was driving this bold statement.”

Gradually, the field of architects was winnowed to 20, then to 10, and finally, to five top firms.

“We were looking at their body of work,” Terman said. “Could we have confidence that they would build an iconic structure?”

Meanwhile, MSU started negotiations with Broad on the size and timing of the gift.

According to university policy, you can get your name on a building if you donate more than half the fundraising goal.

The museum budget at that time was $30 million. The final cost of the museum rose to $40 million to $45 million.

One afternoon in the spring of 2007, Terman was called out of a meeting at the Kellogg Center. Simon was on the phone. She had just gotten a $26 million commitment from the Broads, the biggest individual gift in the school’s history. A year later, he added $2 million more. Broad isn’t the type who leaves a baby on the doorstep. In the final gift, $21.5 million was designated for design and construction and $6.5 million for acquisitions, exhibitions and operations.

“It was a very comprehensive gift,” Terman said. “They had done some thinking.”

Extrovert, reify, pivot

From the start, the Broad Museum project was a delicate dance of two stubborn partners — creativity and practicality.

When Simon announced the gift on May 31, 2007, she mentioned “cultural entrepreneurship” seven times, bearing in mind Michigan’s tough economic times, while Giovannini perfumed the air with architectural jargon. He said the building would “extrovert” the museum, “reify” it to the passing traffic and “pivot” the whole campus toward the community.

He predicted that the site’s proposed sculpture garden and public square would create “desire lines” that would suck passers-by into the museum’s orbit.

MSU’s world-class aspirations, Giovannini said, followed a new national trend. As recently as 20 years ago, top-drawer architects did almost all their United States work on the East or West coasts. This hammerlock was broken in 1988 with the Wexner Center for the Arts in Columbus, Ohio, followed by Coop Himmelb(l)au’s radical addition to the Akron Art Museum in 2004 and Cincinnati’s Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art, the only Zaha Hadid design to be built in the United States before the Broad Museum.

By tapping into a global pool of architectural talent, Giovannini said, these projects have “changed the cultural map of the United States.” New York Times critic Herbert Muschamp praised the Rosenthal Center as “the most important American building to be completed since the beginning of the cold war.”

In this spirit of this Midwestern Renaissance, Giovannini called the surrounding college-Gothic buildings of MSU’s historic north campus “distinguished background buildings” ripe for a new “foreground building” to energize the area.

He anticipated some blowback from traditionalists, but he said “controversy itself is an educational tool” and hoped the museum “would be a subject of discussion, like any interesting discipline — science, art or even sports.”

The university was racking up firsts left and right. Simon marveled at the “counter-university” practice, long accepted in the architectural sphere, of paying the competing firms $50,000 each to submit their entries. Bill Latta, then MSU’s director of capital planning and space management, helped write the competition brief. Latta called the museum the most “significant, thrilling and fulfilling project” he’s ever done.

“We’ve never had that on this campus,” Latta said. “This is the first signature architect.”

Stanford was a key planner. As the project’s tortuous phases stretched over the years, she laconically referred to herself as “project manager in terms of getting this thing moved along.”

New York’s Cooper, Robertson & Partners, an architecture and urban design firm, helped the MSU team draw up the criteria for the competition. The plan called for flexible spaces that could handle everything from paintings to sculpture to video installations to performance art.

The building also needed the right mix of artificial light and sunshine, which is harmful to most art but congenial to humans. Humidity had to be kept at 50 percent. The MSU team wanted a museum that could borrow art from any institution in the world.

Envisioning a building that blurs borders, the design team wanted the option of placing art in non-gallery spaces like the café, which would require special temperature and humidity controls that could be turned on or off in public areas.

“Working with a New York firm who really understood museums opened my eyes to what kind of building this could be,” Bollman said. “That’s when it first sank in for me that this is something different from what we’ve ever done on campus.”

A rare directive from Broad, who kept his distance throughout much of the project, was to include at least 60 percent gallery space. As finally built, the museum did even better, with 70 percent galleries.

The competition

The Broad Museum architectural competition brought a rare confluence of luminaries and shakers from around the country.

On the afternoon of July 17, the day before the competition, several jurors visited the museum site.

Michael Govan, CEO of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, proclaimed the site “very beautiful” and pregnant with potential.

“It’s caught between a drab, utilitarian building (Student Services) and a commercial strip (Grand River), with a beautiful old arboretum to the west,” he said.

Govan turned to fellow juror Edwin Chan, then a partner in architect Frank Gehry’s firm and project manager of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain. “Don’t you just live for things like that?” he asked Chan.

“Absolutely,” Chan shot back with a grin.

Chan was the first to address a question heard at MSU more times than the Spartan fight song.

“When you start a new project, people always say, ‘Is it going to fit in?’” he said. “But to make a new building conform to historical standards is insulting and condescending to that history.”

Govan put it more bluntly. “It’s hard to commission dead architects to do a building,” he said. He hoped the museum would “disrupt and add” to the community.

Perhaps sensing the vertigo induced at MSU by the project, juror Richard Koshalek, then president of the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena and now a museum director at the Smithsonian, cheered the home team on. “If any institution should set the highest standards for its architecture, it’s a university,” Koshalek proclaimed. “You might not expect it from a corporation or a government agency, but you sure as hell expect it from a university.”

At the competition next day, five cutting-edge firms did their best to “disrupt and add.”

“It was amazing to me that they could all look at this very clear brief on what we wanted for a building and come up with five very different solutions,” Bollman said.

Batting leadoff, Karolin Schmidbaur from Vienna’s Coop Himmelb(l)au, unveiled a striking design: two longitudinal slabs of gallery space, cantilevered above the ground, holding a huge glass lobby at their open end like a nutcracker pinches a walnut.

A three-story, eye-like lobby dominated the museum’s west side, giving the building the nickname “the Cyclops” in jury deliberations.

The most outré design was William Pedersen’s biomorphic blob on a raised platform, dubbed “the whale” among the jurors.

The tug of war between the practicals and the creatives made for lively entertainment. When juror and former MSU President Cecil Mackey asked about maintenance costs, Pedersen said the panes on the roof in his design were “just there to talk to the sky.”

When quizzed about an exposed service area in his design, Angus Schoenberger of Coop Himmelb(l)au startled the jurors by abruptly shouting “Loading docks can be beautiful!” He insisted that when Himmelb(l)au built the Akron Art Musuem, then nearing completion, “the trustees said this was the most beautiful loading dock in Akron.”

There were three more designs to go. Randall Stout, of Randall Stout Architects in Los Angeles, described his piano-like building as a “hovering mass in the trees,” with its main galleries cantilevered above the ground. Thom Mayne of Santa Monica’s Morphosis presented a different kind of treehouse, with huge galleries perched over a glassy, see-through first floor.

Cost-conscious Broad and the MSU team looked with growing alarm at the ambitious, high-rise designs. The architects seemed married to podiums, platforms and skylights.

Then came the low rider.

Zaha Hadid was busy opening her new BMW plant in Leipzig, Germany, so she didn’t make it to the competition. Patrik Schumacher, Hadid’s colleague for 20 years, was her designated driver.

As it happened, Hadid’s was the only design of the five that wasn’t cantilevered or raised on a platform. In the renderings, the building hunched on the ground like a sports car encased in gleaming grillwork.

“The artistic concept is based on the idea of interlocking spaces,” Schumacher explained to the jurors. Hundreds of stainless steel pleats, gathered in folds of different shapes like a great bird’s wings, would reflect the surrounding trees from all angles.

Sometimes, Schumacher said, the louvers would offer views inside the building, but never for long. “As you turn, the views are replaced by reflection,” he said.

Schumacher called the building “a mysterious object, intricate, yet with a sense of transparency as well — a magic box.” Then he upped the oxymoronic ante, invoking its “overarching, subtle monumentality.”

The jury rose to look at the model. With visions of five-figure cleaning bills in her head, Simon asked if so much reflective surface was necessary. “The question is how to sustain quality over time,” she said. “What about our Michigan snow?”

Schumacher told Simon the stainless steel would look great whether it was polished or not. Detail fanatics may be comforted to know that the pleats on the finished building are an alloy of stainless steel and salt-resistant molybdenum (atomic number 42).

“It’s straightforward in terms of geometry and structure, so it will come within budget,” Schumacher said, surely knowing it would not.

The deliberation

The jurors repaired to a practice room upstairs at the Wharton Center, with Wilcox, Simon, Terman, Latta and Bollman in tow.

All eyes turned to Broad, the founder of the feast.

Broad asked, “What do you think?”

Early in the discussion, it was clear that “the whale” and “the Cyclops” were going nowhere.

“There were multiple votes,” Terman said. “Everyone had a fair vote. Nobody, neither the president nor Mr. Broad, demanded a certain architect.”

Broad showed interest in the design from Thom Mayne of Morphosis, but didn’t push it. Mayne works in California, close to Broad’s L.A. stomping grounds.

Coop Himmelb(l)au’s design was also losing ground with the jurors. The jurors agreed that tall buildings would dominate the site and disrupt its connectivity.

There was also trepidation about doing long-distance business with Hadid’s firm, which is based in London. But Broad, a housing tycoon and Detroit bungalow builder from way back, liked Hadid’s one-and-a-half-story layout. (The second floor stops short of the west wall, opening instead into a single grand gallery.)

“He comes out of a background as a single-floor developer,” Giovannini said, referring to Broad’s first Fortune 500 company, KB Home. “He eliminated basements and attics and staircases and produced a competitive product that a lot of people could afford. He applied that same mentality to the Broad Museum.”

Eventually, the elevator and stairs crept back into the building, but the basic one-story-with-mezzanine design was kept.

Giovannini said museums really “want” to be one story, so exhibits flow into one another.

“A lot of people think this Zaha thing is a spectacle, but from a museological point of view, it’s not only efficient, but wise.”

Broad called Hadid’s design “practical and exciting.”

Govan, Chan and Koshalek also liked it, but if anyone tipped the scales, it was longtime MSU benefactor Dolores Wharton, CEO and trustee of scores of foundations. The Wharton Center is named after her and her husband, former MSU President Clifton Wharton, and her name is usually prefaced with the word “distinguished,” but Mrs. Wharton likes to push the pedal to the metal.

She kept coming back to Hadid’s design.

“That’s the BMW scheme,” Wharton told the others. “Elegant, dynamic, cool — that’s the one we want to drive.”

“Dolores Wharton was amazing,” Terman said. “Even though she’s in her 80s, she had a perspective that would represent our students well.”

Wharton didn’t want the museum to show a “front door” face to Grand River Avenue while turning a service-entrance behind to the university, and neither did Broad.

“She liked the way it sat in that space,” Latta said. “That’s the way it was moving.”

Broad turned to Latta, Terman and the MSU staff and asked them what they thought. Even allowing for the difficulties of working with an overseas firm, Latta recalled that the MSU contingent favored Hadid.

Latta carefully watched the dynamic between Broad and the jurors, and was impressed that Broad didn’t throw his weight around, even though he seemed to be interested in Morphosis. After Hadid’s firm was engaged, Latta said, “Mr. Broad backed right off. He did not get involved in the day-to-day details.”

Broad said the jurors “chose the right design and the right architect.”

“When you design a museum building, you want nice galleries and all of that, but you also want to have something that’s very inviting,” Broad said. “Her site plan allows people to get in from both Circle Drive and Grand River Avenue. It’s great.”

Interlude: Skinning the armadillo

As 2007 slowly froze into 2008, one of the project’s most delicate periods set in. The planned September announcement of the competition winner came and went without word.

While Hadid won the hearts of the jurors, the accountants were having heart attacks. Skanska, an outside accounting firm, handed down grim estimates of all five competing designs.

“It was clear that none of them was going to meet our cost criteria,” Bollman said.

Bollman visited the jury’s top two choices, Mayne’s Morphosis in Los Angeles and Hadid in London. Talks with Mayne were inconclusive, but he was a second choice anyway.

“Zaha’s entry is the only one where we asked them to really sit down and do some significant redesign,” Bollman said.

Bollman told Hadid’s team the panel was “interested” in their entry, but there was no way they could build it as designed. “The project would be dead on arrival,” he said.

Hadid’s design was 15 percent bigger than the 42,000 square feet minimum specified in the competition brief, according to Craig Kiner, Zaha Hadid’s project manager for the Broad. The east end of the building was shortened accordingly.

But the sticker shock of the new really came from another feature. Hadid wanted to do something completely original with the building’s skin.

Every pleat in the building’s skin would be hooked to the main frame by individual steel trusses, forming an integrated, interlinked shell, according to Kiner. Hundreds of connecting trusses, no two alike, would have been built by hand. “You could open it or close it to let light in,” local project architect Kevin Marshall said. “It was all mechanical and movable and alive.”

The museum’s shell would articulate, like a giant armadillo.

“It was very difficult to figure out how you would even design and build this,” Bollman said. Estimates went up to $113 million. The university was ready to pay $40 million to $45 million, already well above the initial $30 million estimate, but no more.

Bollman told Hadid’s contact, Nils Fischer, that “the project was going nowhere” with the current design.

“We were going to have to cancel the project or throw out all the designs and start over with a conventional building,” Bollman said.

Giovannini, who stayed on the project as a sort of kindly uncle, was worried about the way talks were going between MSU and Hadid’s office.

“There’s a point at which it was fairly delicate,” he said.

To their credit, Hadid’s team came up with their own solutions. They tweaked the angles and the size of the pleats and they skinned the armadillo.

“We had aspirations, but we need to balance that with what is achievable construction wise,” Kiner said.

The pleats evolved into a rain screen hanging from a more traditional substructure. The kaleidoscopic geometry of the steel and glass shell would dazzle the eye just as much.

There was one more feature the MSU team nixed. Hadid’s design included a pleated roof with an intricate pattern of lighting.

“If you looked at it from outer space, it would look fantastic,” Bollman said. “But we needed a roof we could maintain, that would be here forever.” Designers went with a conventional roof. Venusians will have to find the museum by using Google Maps, like everyone else.

The cost-cutting process could have been the death of a thousand cuts, but Bollman was impressed with the creative responses from Hadid’s office. “That was good, because they still had to buy into it and support it,” he said.

The announcement

In the week before Christmas 2007, bulldozers demolished the Paolucci Building at the museum site. Vaguely swooshy, Zaha Hadid-y signs announcing the museum’s advent went up. On Jan. 15, 2008, three months later than originally planned, MSU made it official: Hadid was the winner.

On the day of the announcement, Hadid had nothing but praise for the Broad Museum site.

“It’s a fabulous site, especially in the context of a college campus,” she said.

She contrasted the elongated, low-slung MSU parcel with the vertical confines of her downtown Cincinnati art gallery complex, the Rosenthal Center. In Cincinnati, Hadid rolled the sidewalk into a “carpet” that swoops pedestrians upward into interlocking blocks of gallery space. At MSU, she went in the other direction, laying out an oblique mass that slinks through the trees.

Hadid talked about the pleats and folds on the museum’s skin. “The idea came as kind of a series of colliding spaces, not like a jigsaw, but almost like a patchwork,” she said. “Conflicting lines and folding is something which we have looked at for a while, but it has never been tried in a particular building, and this is a suitable project.”

MSU officials were a bit star-struck. At times, it wasn’t clear who was wooing whom.

“We are very fortunate that she was even willing even to compete for our project,” Simon said.

Giovannini suavely spun concerns over the museum’s rising cost. He called Hadid’s design “a major work of lasting intellect and beauty at far less than the price of a good Picasso. So you got a bargain.”

Everyone knows Midwesterners love bargains. Giovannini wanted to reassure MSU that a salt-of-the-earth land grant school had spent its unprecedented wad of mad money sensibly.

Look for the shimmer

For two years after the January 2008 announcement that Hadid’s design was the winner, it seemed like nothing was going on at the site. That’s because a team of designers had to tug at Hadid’s visionary design like inter-dimensional obstetricians until it breached time-space as we know it.

The role of middleman between high concept and hardhat fell largely to Kevin Marshall, of Integrated Design Solutions of Troy, the local design architect.

“In the end, it’s their vision,” Marshall said. “I’m here to make it be functional for the university over the long haul.”

It sounds like a three-ulcer job, but Marshall lobbied hard for it, recognizing a rare chance.

The computer models from Hadid’s London office were spectacular, but vague. Only about 25 dimensions (heights, widths and lengths) were specified in the entire set of floor plans. Marshall said that’s about as many as he usually sees for one room.

To complicate matters, the building, and the budget, expanded and contracted several times before the groundbreaking, as galleries and other features were added and deleted.

Through all the changes, Marshall’s job stayed the same. For each section of the museum, he worked out a detailed, “buildable” drawing and laid it over the original computer model. If the ideal and real matched, the walls vibrated on the screen.

“You wanted that shimmer,” Marshall said.

It took almost two years to finalize a workable set of plans.

Tuesday morning, March 16, 2010, all the Broad Museum big shots, including Hadid, Broad and Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm assembled for a gala groundbreaking. 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. “Even if you only get 95 percent of your goals, it’s still amazing.”

Exactly what percentage of Hadid’s goals were achievable at the Broad Museum site was the implicit question written on every work order, memo, invoice and worried forehead in the coming months.

The contracts were signed and the catered snacks were consumed.

Now all they had to do was build it.