Eli & Edith Broad Art Museum

Owner: Michigan State University

Design Architect: Zaha Hadid Architects, London, England
Architect of Record: Integrated Design Solutions
Structural Engineer: SDI Structures
Construction Management: Barton Malow
Concrete Contractor: Grainger Construction
Reinforcing Bar Fabricator: Harris Rebar
Total Project Cost: $35 million
Total Project Size: 40,000 sq ft
Floor System: 2-way slab
Framing System: Concrete bearing walls
Award: 2012 CRSI Award Winner – Cultural & Entertainment Facilities Category
Photography: Maconochie Photography Kevin Marshall

Philanthropist and art collector Eli Broad envisioned this new museum as a world-class venue for the display of modern art, to be designed by a world-class architect: the visionary Zaha Hadid of London, England. The architect imagined a high tech building skin wrapped around a frame of skewed and sloping exposed concrete walls. Central to that vision was a raw yet refined concrete finish that could be achieved only in self-consolidating concrete (SCC). There were however no known examples architecturally exposed SCC on dramatically sloping surfaces. Thus the design and construction team embarked on an extensive journey in uncharted realms of reinforced concrete construction.


The architect designed a building of uncommon complexity and maintained uncommonly high expectations for the execution of reinforced concrete walls that both formed the building’s structure and provided texture and warmth to the building interior. The building frame is comprised of a series of non-parallel, sloping, and skewed reinforced concrete walls that are architecturally exposed. The supported slabs are two-way reinforced concrete slabs.

The project fully implemented BIM technologies to help describe the building’s exceeding complex geometries. The Revit models used for fabrication were continually checked against the architect’s Rhino models, With glazing being hundreds of unique shapes shipped from Germany, and the stainless steel skin being many more hundreds of individually fabricated forms, the tolerances for construction were extremely small. The careful Building Information Modeling (BIM) coordination allowed each piece to come together in a precise way.


Some innovation is guided by inspiration, while other achievements of innovation are arrived at by trial and error. This was a case of trial and error. From early in the project the team was committed to an extensive program of mockup production and innovation. Dozens of mockups of varying size were created to understand the interaction of numerous variables on the finish of the self-consolidating concrete. Reinforcing steel (rebar) placement and its impact on the placement of self-consolidating concrete, as well as its impact on crack control and the visibility of cracking, was among the many variable adjusted in the mockups.

Slowly, the team advanced toward the creation of protocols for mix-design, concrete placement, and reinforcing steel (rebar) placement that provided consistent quality under variable temperatures. BIM implementation was also critical to realization of this successful reinforced concrete project. Modeling took place across three BIM software platforms: Rhino, Revit, and Tekla. Ultimately, for rebar placement, the Structural Engineer of Record reduced their 3D models to 2D placement drawing for use in the field. Note that slab drawings are provided as four grouped placement drawings for each four rebar layers. The team believed that the benefits of BIM need to extend to all members of the team, and the for part slab layout provided uncommon clarity for an uncommonly complex geometry.


The team was guided by a desire to use reinforced concrete following these five criteria:

  • Blemish-free exposed finish. First and foremost the team was committed to a uniform finish that was smooth to touch immediately after the forms were stripped; free of visible pockets, bubbles and voids.
  • Uniform sloped surfaces. The most dramatic surfaces, and most scrutinized surfaces, would be the faces of sloping walls, particularly in the stair and the café. It was imperative that those surfaces maintain uniformity regardless of whether the exposed surface was cast “up” or cast “down” facing to view.
  • Crack free to the eye. Control joint were to be minimal in terms of placement and size. The team was committed to avoiding visible cracks in exposed walls away from control joints.
  • All Seasons Construction. The project schedule provided no allowance to limit construction to good weather. Construction would proceed in the hottest days of late summer and the coldest days of mid-winter. Visual uniformity was expected in all weather.
  • On-budget Construction. There was no room in the budget for unanticipated costs. The team needed to commit to an approach that was within the owner’s budget.


“It’s a springboard for saying, ‘Let’s break out of convention’, both in terms of building and also what we do academically.” – MSU Associate Provost, Linda Stanford.

A concrete wall is cut away to reveal a black lining of angular chamfers; the bar twists in origami folds. A corner is scythed through to reveal a black vitrine in which one shelf breaks through the glass to create a seat and the canted louvres cast striated, expressionist shadows across the polished concrete floors. “ – Architecture Critic, Edwin Heathcote.