Architect Holl introduces “horizontal porosity”

 

One of the foremost examples of contemporary architecture on the campus, this building renews the University’s commitment to the “Iowa Idea” of linking humanists and artists. Space for the studio and academic study of art has been reconsolidated here, making up for decades of splintering in various places around campus.

Because this building had to be a work of art itself, Holl sought inspiration in Pablo Picasso’s 19213 sculpture, Guitar (Museum of Modern Art, New York).

The site on Hutchinson Quarry Pond, recommended by Steve Holl for its visual appeal, creates an informal quad for the school. That relationship is reinforced by the choice of a weathering Corten steel facing reflects the red brick of George Horner’s original Art Building. Because this building had to be a work of art itself, Holl sought inspiration in Pablo Picasso’s 19213 sculpture, Guitar (Museum of Modern Art, New York). The conceit is visible in the cantilevered wing – the instrument’s fret board – and its curved east façade – the soundbox. The dynamic forms of Art Building West engage and energize the lagoon, weaving it into the life of the campus and encouraging people to linger by the water and adjacent limestone bluff. Art and nature merge sympathetically.

Designing around the school’s artistic needs, as well as those of the site, led Holl to create a building of custom exteriors. Channel glass along the north façade and sawtooth skylighting maximize valuable northern light for studios and are examples of the unique glazing of Holl’s design. The cantilever tilts upward dramatically, while inside, the extreme projecting end houses the Art Library’s imposing two-story reading room. Art Building West plays with certain fuzziness, allowing walls and exposed steel structure to exist independently and different planes to project and intersect in unanticipated ways. Employing a concept he designated “horizontal porosity,” Holl opens up interior walls unexpectedly to bring light to the innermost spaces of the building.  In the atrium, a seemingly self-supporting steel stair evokes the revolutionary early twentieth-century style of Russian Constructivism and acts as a floating piece of sculpture in this community space. Turquoise wall accents reference the watery setting while also recalling the distant days of High Modernism and the International style.

 

Editor's Note:  "Architecture 101" is an introduction to the architecture of the University of Iowa campus and some of the history of a handful of its buildings. New chapters will be added weekly beginning in mid-June and through the fall.  All installments of Architecture 101 are excerpts from the second edition of the book, "The University of Iowa Guide to Campus Architecture," by John Beldon Scott and Rodney P. Lehnertz. The guide was published for the Office of the President by the University of Iowa Press and will be available for purchase in late summer/early fall 2016.