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2018 MCHAP

Visual Arts Building, University of Iowa

Steven Holl

Iowa City, IA, USA

October 2016


Steven Holl / Steven Holl Architects Chris McVoy / Steven Holl Architects


Rob Kruse / BNIM Architects (Associate Architects / Landscape Architect) Gijs Libourel / Buro Happold (Structural Engineer) Kelley Gipple / Structural Engineering Associates (Structural Engineer) Hervé Descottes / L’Observatoire International (Lighting Consultant) Matthias Schuler / Transsolar (Sustainability Engineer)


The University of Iowa, School of Art and Art History


Iwan Baan


In a school of the arts today, interconnection and crossover are of fundamental importance. Today digital techniques open up increased interconnection between all the arts. Interconnection between all of the departments is facilitated in the vertical carving out of large open floor plates. Students can see activities ongoing across these openings and be encouraged to interact and meet. Further interconnection is facilitated by glass partition along the studio walls adjacent to internal circulation. Natural light and natural ventilation are inserted into the deep floor plates via the “multiple centers of light.” The seven vertical cutouts encourage interaction between all four levels. These spaces of translucent glass are characterized by a language of shifted layers where one floor plate slides past another. This geometry creates multiple balconies, providing outdoor meeting spaces and informal exterior working space. Stairs are shaped to encourage meeting, interaction and discussion. Stairs stop at generous landings with tables and chairs; others open onto lounge spaces with sofas for informal learning. The original grid of the campus breaks up at the river, becoming organic as it hits the limestone bluff. The Arts West building reflect s this irregular geometry in fuzzy edges. The new Visual Arts Building picks up the campus grid again in its simple plan, defining the new campus space of the “Arts Meadow.”


The Visual Arts Building replaces the University of Iowa’s original 1936 arts building, which was damaged during a flood. The client requested purpose-built art studios and expressed the importance of interconnection between disciplines and showcasing studios to exchange ideas and spur thought and innovation. The building was envisioned to be open for all departments across campus, connecting arts, sciences and humanities. As a result, the Visual Arts Building is built with collaboration as its core. Studios are connected through a central forum, exposing studio activity and displaying artwork produced. The four-story building is comprised of shifting open floor plates with seven vertical "cuts". These cuts provide natural light, define outdoor balconies, and create stairwells with generous landings and seating to encourage interaction and discussion. Each discipline was given specific attention according to necessary equipment, activity and light requirements. The building is sited above the 500-year floodplain, creating an "Arts Meadow" with the existing Art Building West (also designed by SHA) and is a model of sustainable technologies, employing innovative new building systems and using the green roof an outdoor studio and meeting space. Elements of the building, such as door handles, were produced locally by the school's foundry. The project was designed with the campus community in mind. The facility is meant to inspire creativity and innovation. The openness of the arts meadow and an important campus walkway through the forum make the building accessible to the whole campus, and provide art students and faculty spaces for contemplation and collaboration.


The new Visual Arts Building for the University of Iowa’s School of Art and Art History provides 126,000 square feet of loft-like space for all visual arts media, from ancient metalsmithing techniques to the most advanced virtual reality and digital fabrication technologies. It also includes galleries, faculty offices, an outdoor rooftop studio, and teaching spaces for Art History. The Visual Arts Building anchors the schools’ STEAM initiative with approximately 400 engineering and computer science students taking courses alongside art majors each academic year. The new building forms an ‘Arts Meadow’ campus quad with Art Building West, which was also designed by Steven Holl and has drawn students from all over campus to its social spaces and library since opening in 2006. Together they form a visual arts campus for theorizing, teaching and making art. While the 2006 Arts Building West is horizontally porous and of planar composition, the new building is vertically porous and volumetrically composed. The aim of maximum interaction between all departments of the school takes shape in social circulation spaces. The building is a model for sustainable technologies, as the first building to integrate radiant floor heating and cooling within a bubble voided slab foundation (reducing the amount of concrete by 30%). Its façade is composed of a Rheninzink skin and Fibonacci-proportioned windows. On the South elevations a perforated stainless steel veil shades the interior during the day and emits soft diffused light in the evenings. The building consumes 61% less energy than a code compliant building.

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