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09.08.2009
Holl on the High Road
Steven Holl Architects wins Glasgow School of Art as firm's first UK commission
Responding to Charles Rennie Mackintosh's famed building for the school, Holl's plan uses a
Courtesy Steven Holl Architects

Steven Holl is on a winning streak, coming and going. In August the Knut Hamsum Center opened in Norway. Tomorrow the Herning Museum of Contemporary Art opens to the public in Denmark, and today Holl was announced winner of the competition to design the $82 million home for the Glasgow School of Art.

As noted in UK news sources, the competition attracted 153 entries, but Holl was the unanimous winner selected by 8 jurors, including David Mackay of Barcelona-based MBM Arquitectes and Christine Hawley, dean of the Bartlett at University College London, who cited Holl’s “poetic use of light” and “scale of ambitions,” among other winning qualities.

The site is across from a building designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh that, in a national survey, was recently voted the UK’s favorite building of the past 175 years. The program includes work on a masterplan for the Garnethill campus, plus a 121,000-square-foot teaching and research facility where students can present their work to the public. Holl will be collaborating with local firm JM Architects, and while the team presented models and sketches, the concepts are not intended as the design for the future building, which is set to open in 2013.

Steven Holl Architects have designed two architecture schools and one art school, according to senior partner Christopher McVoy, who will be leading the design team. “It’s always a joy to make spaces for inspiring and making art,” McVoy said by telephone. The most salient challenge in creating a new design, he added, is the Mackintosh Building across the street. “It is one of the greatest buildings of the twentieth century, an essay in light and volume in section. Mackintosh invented a new language for buildings that’s still fresh today.”

With more than seven competitions under their belt this year, this is the firm’s first win, and their first project in the United Kingdon. They were the only American firm in a final roster that included Glasgow-based Elder & Cannon, Spanish architect Francisco Mangado Architects, and the Irish firm Grafton, this year’s winners of the first Building of the Year Award at the World Architecture Festival.

Holl’s American supporters, and fans of his many northern European and Chinese projects so often in the news lately, may find it curious that contest organizer Malcolm Reading described Holl as “an architect who is quite clearly on the brink of widespread international recognition.”

Julie V. Iovine