Voxman Music Building, University of Iowa
Iowa City, IA, USA
Neumann Monson Architects (Associate Architect) Magnusson Klemencic Associates (Structural Engineer) Shive-Hattery (Civil Engineer) Confluence (Landscape Architect) Jaffe Holden Acoustics (Acoustics and AV) Fisher Dachs Associates (Theater Planner) Horton Lees Brogden Lighting Design (Lighting Designer) Design Engineers (MEP Engineer)
David Gier, Director - School of Music, University of Iowa
The project brief demanded a building that would foster new approaches to music education, reimagining both the future of arts education at the University, and the relationship between the University and the surrounding city. Thus the urban condition – the connective tissue of this future-looking facility – was viewed not only as an exterior influence, but as a spirit infusing the interior of the building. Beyond the ambitious social and pedagogical goals for the project, the new music building required state-of-the-art, flexible performance spaces that integrated adaptive acoustics to support a variety of musical typologies. Multiple factors would shape the building form. A visual and physical connection with both the campus and the city was vital to its identity and mission. The constrained urban site necessitated vertical organization to accommodate the large program, 6 floors in all. A broad mix of functional spaces – with a clear, intuitive navigational scheme – were crucial to supporting the program’s evolving pedagogy. The School of Music also sought multi-functional common spaces to attract a variety of occupants and foster an environment of informal, serendipitous interactions. A modest budget drove inventive approaches to design, and the diverse skills among the project team demanded a collaborative design process across many disciplines. Advanced digital design tools enabled new solutions through computationally synthesized performance requirements, allowing flexibility, experimentation and fine-tuning across several proposed design solutions. The architect’s digital models unlocked direct-to-fabrication opportunities for multiple building systems, optimizing material performance, economy and assembly.
After a flood destroyed the University of Iowa arts campus in 2008, the School of Music found itself redistributed to 17 locations across Iowa City. The department lacked a campus home and unified identity, as well as acoustically appropriate spaces in which to learn and perform. As music is an inherently collaborative art form, this lack of cohesion eroded the quality of the education experience the University was able to offer its students. Recognizing the need for a new music building, the University made a significant investment to move that project forward. Both Hancher Auditorium, the main performing arts theater on campus, and the fine arts departments opted to rebuild near the site of the flood-damaged facilities, nestled in the pastoral landscape along the Iowa River. The School of Music chose a different approach, selecting a site about a mile away, in the heart of Iowa City. This unique site – effectively bridging the campus and the city – would allow the School to leverage the power of music performance and education with outreach and community engagement. Federal disaster funding required that the new building recreate the program elements of the previous facility. While meeting this directive, the arrangement, composition and experience of program elements would be rethought and strategically reorganized to position the School and its students for the future.
Since opening in the fall of 2016, the Voxman Music Building has quickly become a landmark structure at the University of Iowa and a focal point in Iowa City’s rich cultural life. The project inspires students and faculty to new levels of creativity, attracting audiences in record numbers, and providing an anchor for the southern edge of the community’s developing downtown district. The flexibility of the building continues to surprise faculty and students with new possibilities, and impromptu performances regularly occur throughout the building’s public spaces. Exceptional acoustic performance throughout the building, in addition to integrated recording and teaching technology, has transformed both the educational and performance capabilities of School of Music students, faculty and guests. Faculty note the building’s uncanny ability to provide both connection and solace, incorporating opportunities for informal gathering as well as acoustic separation between studios and performance spaces. Daylit common spaces entice students to gather, study and collaborate; even students from outside departments seek out and utilize these shared spaces. By every measure, the new building has proven to be transformative. The School of Music is already experiencing a surge in recruitment, and expects the facility to have a major impact on its capacity to attract the very best students to the University of Iowa. Fulfilling its mission of community outreach and engagement, more than 350 public events are hosted at the facility each year and its success has been a catalyst for an emerging downtown arts district.