The façade’s monumental “I” is a happy unintended consequence of the design process

 

Following the flood of 2008, FEMA supported replacement of the original Art Building. Steve Holl was selected to create a building that would sit next to his first UI design, the internationally awarded Art Building West. While the site selected for the project afforded important adjacency and an elevation free of future flood risks, it also forced the 126,000 square feet of art studio and art history classroom space into a confined footprint. This presented a significant challenge because of the need to distribute natural light in the art studio spaces throughout the five-story structure. A skylighted interior atrium and innovative glazing methods overcame this difficulty. This campus location near the epicenter of the flood now provides the opportunity to experience Steven Holl designs that display the development of his architecture over a ten-year span. In the 1930s the School of Art and Art History advanced the art world as the first university program to unite the study of art  history and studio arts. After eight years of temporary facilities those innovative “Iowa Idea” roots have been reestablished.

This campus location near the epicenter of the flood now provides the opportunity to experience Steven Holl designs that display the development of his architecture over a ten-year span.

Like the adjacent Art Building West, also designed by Steven Holl, the Visual Arts Building is a work of art at the forefront of contemporary design, one intended to stiumulate the creative potential of student-artists. Its reinforced concrete structure, vertical light shafts, and perforated screening comprise a yang to ABW’s early yin (exposed steel structure, horizontally introduced lighting, and opaque cladding). Both facilities acknowledge the primacy of light in the creation of art:  the earlier building is horizontally porous, whereas the new design is vertically permeable. Innovative structural and mechanical systems were applied in the VAB, including a bubble-deck with radiant heating/cooling floor plates. The exterior composition is organized as four stacked and shifted tectonic plates with exposed channel-glass light wells – excavated into the facades and vertically staggered – that further illuminate the core of the interior. A Fibonacci sequence generates the varied proportions of the irregular window distribution and adds history and whimsical interest. Rheinzink screens on the east and south facades serve as sunshades during the day but display the window pattern at night, while solid zinc panels sheath the street and rear facades. The ramped, four-story atrium runs diagonally through the building, encouraging interaction among the various media studios while also connected ABW and the campus beyond to the residential neighborhood on the bluff. As sedum-planted green roof and an outdoor sculpture platform surround the studio art penthouse and gallery on the fifth-floor terrace. The monumental “I” projecting at the southeast corner is a happy, if unintended’ consequence of the design process.

 

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.