In Lansing, Michigan, you can visit my in-laws, enjoy creative flavors of ice cream at the Michigan State Dairy, and puzzle over why the state capital isn’t in Detroit. You can also visit the Broad Art Museum on the MSU campus, designed by Zaha Hadid and completed in 2012.
I recently visited the Broad (rhymes with “road”). The exterior is distinctive, to say the least, with its sharp-finned, steel-clad envelope, and its evident hostility toward 90-degree angles. Inside are more jagged edges, a few vertical walls that concede to thenecessity of hanging things, and a conspicuous absence of curves.
Someone once wrote of an actor that “his suits wear him, not the other way around.” I felt much the same way about the Broad: The building visits you, instead of vice versa. The structure never lets you forget it’s there. It’s always redirecting your eye, or influencing your steps, or throwing up some jarring angle to remind you that you are in a designed environment. At times it’s literally tiring, though it’s also admirable in its refusal to compromise its claim on your attention.
The Broad makes an intriguing contrast to another museum I visited recently, Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art, by Josef Paul Kleihues. The MCA doesn’t grab you by the lapels and shake you, like the Broad does, though it’s also very intentionally designed and thoughtful. Inside, the MCA presents a much more neutral frame for the art that it houses, reserving its most dramatic gestures, such as its extraordinary staircase, for things that don’t threaten to overshadow the building’s contents.
The Broad makes different choices, and deliberately provides an entirely different experience. And yet, there are moments of grace and calm amid its machinations, especially in some of the transitions between the galleries.
Whatever else the Broad is, it’s certainly not forgettable. In an age of anodyne boxes on every urban corner, that alone is a notable achievement.