steven holl architects: visual arts building at university of iowa steven holl architects: visual arts building at university of iowa
sep 27, 2013

steven holl architects: visual arts building at university of iowa

steven holl architects: visual arts building at university of iowa
all images courtesy of steven holl architects




replacing an original facility from 1936 that was damaged during a 2008 flood, the ‘new visual arts building’ for the university of iowa’s school of art designed by steven holl architects will provide 126,000 square feet of lofted space housing the departments of ceramics, metals, photography, printmaking, sculpture and 3D multimedia; in addition to graduate student studios, faculty and staff studios and offices and gallery space over four-storeys. positioned adjacent and northwest of the art building west also by steven holl, the volume will be vertically porous and volumetrically composed, creating maximum interaction between the various programs and social circulation spaces it houses.

operable windows will allow for natural ventilation




the building has been designed to emphasize the importance of interconnection between the various creative disciplines. seven vertical carve outs into the large open floor plates link the various departments of the school. these allow students to visually see what activities are happening through these apertures, while also encouraging social and physical interaction. this notion is further emphasized through glass partitions that are installed within studio walls facing the internal circulation. this architectural porosity supplies natural light and ventilation flow between the four levels. made from glass, these calculated holes are characterized by a language of shifted layers, so they appear to be sliding past one another. these multiple centers of light also provide balconies–outdoor meeting and informal exterior working spaces for faculty and students.

large bands of glazing flood the interior with light




the stairs have been conceived as ‘vertical social condensors’, which are shaped in such a way that they encourage meeting and discussion. some of the stepped areas stop on generous landings where tables and chairs can be found; while others open onto lounge spaces with sofas, making the interior one unlocked collaborative studio. to compliment the creative innovation growing within the school, steven holl architects wanted to create an ecological and technically sound structure. natural ventilation is achieved through opera windows, while a punched concrete frame construction provides thermal mass at the exterior, with bubble slabs providing radiant cooling and heating. the educational premises will be completed by a perforated, blue-green rheinzink skin for sun shade on the southwest and southeast sides.


construction on the new visual arts building has just begun with a projected completion date of 2016.

water color depicting the ‘stairs as social condenser / interconnector’



watercolor of the circulation



watercolor of the shifting levels






site model



aerial view of the site


project info:


name: visual arts building, university of iowa, iowa city, IA, united states
year: 2010

client: university of iowa
architect: steven holl architects, steven holl, chris mcvoy (design architects); rychiee espinosa (project architect); garrick ambrose, bell ying yi cai, christiane deptolla, jongseo
lee, johanna muszbek, garrett ricciardi, filipe taboada, jeanne wellinger, human tieliu wu, christina yessios (project team)
associate architects: BNIM architects
structural engineer: buro happold
lighting consultant: l’observatoire international
sustainability engineer: transsolar
mechanical engineer: design engineers
curtain wall consultant: WJ higgins & co.
civil engineer: shive-hattery
audio/visual consultant: the sextant group inc.

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