Inspired by Picasso’s Cubist composition for a 1912 guitar sculpture, Steven Holl’s first building for the University of Iowa is a stealth work of architecture whose layered weathering-steel assembly and light structure hugs its site and juts out over a quarry pond. His second one is nothing like that.
Perched atop a hill, Holl’s new 126,000-square-foot Visual Arts Building is more cube than Cubist. Originally intended to have only two levels, its boxy form developed—after more than 40 schemes—with the need to squeeze as much program as possible onto a constricted lot at the edge of campus that is bordered by private property.
It was Holl’s deft siting for that first project a decade ago for the School of Art and Art History, which maintained an open green, that made it possible to build the new one—nearly twice the size of the former and right across the way from it—even though no one could have predicted the need for another art building.
In 2008, catastrophic floods ravaged the eastern half of Iowa in what was the fifth-worst natural disaster in U.S. history. The university suffered nearly $800 million in damages, particularly to its arts campus. Harrison & Abramovitz’s Hancher Auditorium (1972), for instance, was destroyed, replaced this year by a new performing-arts center by Pelli Clark Pelli.
Take a video tour of the UI's new Visual Arts Building by clicking here