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Holl-otta Art
Steven Holl Architects designs second arts building at the University of Iowa.
Courtesy Steven Holl Architects

Steven Holl Architecture’s new Visual Arts Building at the University of Iowa will be an instrument for art, its designer said—a loft-like, light-filled tower of studio spaces that provides an architectural counterpoint to its celebrated neighbor.

The new building complements an adjacent Holl structure completed in 2006, Art Building West, which is a horizontally oriented steel structure with a large cantilever over a lagoon. “It’s a rare opportunity to make a new campus work next to a previous work,” said Chris McVoy, who led project design along with Holl. “We wanted to make a building that was complementary to [Art Building West], but also quite different.”


Adapting the “porous design” strategy of its neighbor, the new Visual Arts facility has a series of vertically connected spaces. Open sightlines and ample windows connect the stacked spaces to the surrounding environment and a large light well carved out of the floorplates lets in natural light and ventilation. The floorplates slide past each other, creating balconies and exterior working spaces.

“Light and nature carve into the building,” said McVoy. “If you make generous spaces with great light that changes through the day, it’s much more conducive to greater thinking.”


Seven vertical cutouts, dubbed “light courts,” are meant to encourage interaction between disciplines and studios spread out across the building’s four floors and penthouse. Studios on all floors are visible from the bottom of the main light court (“the forum”) at the building’s center. That space also connects to the “art meadow” green between SHA’s new building and Art Building West, as well as north to River Street and the rest of campus.

Circulation throughout the light courts follows a series of large landings and seating areas. “The circulation becomes a place of exchange, interaction, and education,” said McVoy. “It’s very exciting making a new studio building at a time when art is more and more working across disciplines and across media. Really this building is dedicated to the evolving art practice.”

A green roof is among the 126,000-square-foot building’s LEED-point-earning features (it’s aiming for Gold). Operable windows allow natural ventilation throughout, while hollow spheres in the 12-inch-thick floor slabs cut down on material use. The slabs are also outfitted with a radiant heating and cooling system.

Construction is underway and the new building is scheduled to open in 2016.

Chris Bentley