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Visual Arts Building at the University of Iowa

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.

Courtesy of Steven Holl Architects – Photography: Iwan Baan

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.

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.

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.

Courtesy of Steven Holl Architects – Photography: Iwan Baan

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.

Courtesy of Steven Holl Architects – Photography: Iwan Baan

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.”

Sketch – Courtesy of Steven Holl Architects

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.

Courtesy of Steven Holl Architects – Photography: Iwan Baan

Project Info
Architects: Steven Holl Architects
Location: Iowa City, United States
Design Team: 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 and Structural Engineering Associates, Inc.
Lighting Consultant: L’Observatoire International
Sustainability engineer: Transsolar
Area: 126000.0 ft2
Year: 2016
Type: Educational
Photographs: Iwan Baan, Eric Dean, Chris McVoy

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