Steven Holl Architects - Visual Arts Building, University of Iowa
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Visual Arts Building, University of Iowa

Steven Holl Architects

Education  /  Completed
Steven Holl Architects
The new Visual Arts facility for the University of Iowa's School of Art and Art History provides 126,000 sf of loft- like space for all visual arts media, from ancient metalsmithing techniques to the most advanced virtual reality technologies, including Ceramics, 3D Design, Metal Arts & Jewelry, Sculpture, Printmaking, Painting & Drawing, Graphic Design, Intermedia, Video Art, and Photography. Also housed are galleries, faculty offices, an outdoor rooftop studio, and teaching spaces for Art History.

The Visual Arts Building replaces an original arts building from 1936, which was heavily damaged during a flood of the University of Iowa campus in June 2008. The new building forms an Arts Quad with Art Building West, which was designed by Steven Holl Architects 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 following five points outline the concepts and techniques used in the building's realization.

Interconnection: Horizontal Programs, Vertical Porosity

In a school of the arts today, interconnection and crossover, made increasingly possible through digital techniques, are of fundamental importance. Interdisciplinary collaboration between the School’s various art 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 partitions along the studio walls adjacent to internal circulation.

Multiple Centers of Light

Natural light and ventilation reach into the core of the building via “centers of light." The seven vertical cutouts 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, further encouraging interaction between the building’s four levels.

Stairs as Vertical Social Condensers: Corridors as
Horizontal Meeting Spaces

Stairs are shaped to enable informal meeting, interaction and discussion. Some stairs stop at generous landings with tables and chairs, others open onto lounge spaces with sofas, for informal collaborative work.

Campus Space Definition/Porosity

The original grid of the campus breaks up at the Iowa River, becoming organic as it hits the limestone bluff. The Arts West building reflects this irregular geometry in fuzzy edges. The new building picks up the campus grid again in its simple plan, defining the new campus space of the "arts meadow."

Material Resonance, Ecological Innovation

Natural ventilation is achieved via operable windows and skylights. A punched concrete frame structure provides thermal mass at the exterior while "bubble" slabs provide radiant cooling and heating. A Rheinzink skin in weathering blue-green is perforated for sun shade on the southwest and southeast.


 Iowa City
 University of Iowa
 11706 mq
 Steven Holl (design architect, principal) Chris McVoy (senior partner in charge) Rychiee Espinosa (project architect, associate) JongSeo Lee, Garrick Ambrose, Filipe Taboada, Christiane Deptolla, Garrett Ricciardi, Christopher Rotman, Christina Yessios, J
 BNIM Architects (associate architect), Buro Happold & Structural Engineering Associates (Structural Engineers), Design Engineers (Mechanical Engineer), Shive-Hattery (Civil Engineer)
 Miron Construction
 Transsolar (Sustainability Engineer), L'Observatoire International (Lighting Consultant), WJ Higgins & Co. (Curtain Wall Consultant), The Sextant group Inc. (Audio / Visual Consultant)
 U plank glass wall – Architectural Wall Systems / Bendheim, Metal frame casement window – Wausau Windows, Insulated Glass – Architectural Wall Systems, Large sized Insulated Glass - Schott, Translucent Glass – Okalalux - Kapilux, Channel Glass – Bendheim, Radius Glass – Cricursa, Skylights – IBG Canada, Europanel Rainscreen - Pohl Inc., Steel backup IGU curtain Wall – Custom fabricated by Architecural Wall Systems, Perforated Stainless Metal Panel + Rheinzink Zinc Metal Sheet, Reinforced Concrete / Cobiax bubble voided slab system, Formwork – Ceco Concrete Construction, Wood Panels – ACGI, Plastic Laminate – Formica Bathroom Wall Tile – Daltile Paints and Stains – Sherwin Williams, Acoustical Plaster – Pyrok Star Silent, Cork Flooring – Capri Cork, Carpet - Interface, Moisture Barrier – Grace Permabarrier, Liquid Applied Themal Active Slab Piping – Upinor, Heat Recovery Wheel, Heat Recover Chiller - Trane, Interior Ambient Lighting – Birchwood, Cooper Track and Gallery Lighting – Zumtobel, Display Lighting – Lumenpulse, Wallwash – Birchwood, LED Lamps - GE, Lighting Exterior – Hess, Cole Lighting, Wagner Architectural, Targetti, Lithonia, Bega, Filtrine, Koehler, Sloan, Custom Stainless Steel Sinks & Casework - Servco, Office Furniture – Herman Miller, Fixed Seating – Irwin Chairs – Herman Miller, Steelcase, Allsteel & Vitra Tables – Herman Miller, Studio Worktables – Mott & Grainger, Cabinetwork and Custom Woodwork – Huston / Performance Display, Visuline Aluminum Windows – Wausau Windows, Entrances - Tubelite, Metal Doors - Curries, Wood Doors - Eggers, Sliding Fire Doors – McKeon Loading, Dock Coiling Door – McKeon
 Iwan Baan


Steven Holl Architects is an internationally recognized, innovative architecture and urban design office with locations in New York City, San Francisco, and Beijing. Steven Holl founded the firm in 1976 and now has a total staff of 45. The firm has been recognized with numerous awards, publications, and exhibitions for quality and excellence in design; Steven Holl was named by Time magazine as "America’s Best Architect," for creating "buildings that satisfy the spirit as well as the eye." Most recently, SHA completed the University of Iowa Visual Arts Building, Reid Building at The Glasgow School of Art, Columbia University’s Campbell Sports Center and the Sliced Porosity Block. The firm’s current work includes the Lewis Center for the Arts at Princeton University, a new Institute for Contemporary Art at Virginia Commonwealth University, the Hunters Point Community Library, a new campus for the Museum of Fine Arts, and the John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts Expansion.

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