The American Institute of Architects (AIA) announced on January 12th that Steven Holl Architects’ University of Iowa School of Art & Art History is a recipient of the 2007 institute Honor Award for Architecture, the profession’s highest recognition of works that exemplify excellence in architecture. The building, a hybrid instrument for teaching based on the idea of ‘open edges and center’, was one of 11 projects selected from over nearly 700 submissions.
Citing the building for its “remarkable, structural clarity,” the jury lauded the architect who, “fought for the site and created something that has become a grounding point for the university,” stating that, “Its sculptural form outside continues inside to create functional light filled spaces…The building works from the inside out and makes the possibility of art interactive…It’s not a destination; it’s a pathway.”
The Art & Art History building presented special conditions: an existing 1937 brick building with a central body and flanking wings located along the river, a lagoon, and a connection to the organic geometry of nearby limestone bluffs that form the edge of the city grid. The design explores “formless” geometries in its disposition of spaces and combination of routes. A working and flexible teaching instrument, the building connects interior functions in spatial overlap at its center, which acts as a “social condenser” where ongoing work can be observed. Around the perimeter, spaces overlook, overlap, and engage the surrounding natural landscape.
Opened in September 2006, the building has been widely commended by the university and architecture communities alike. Admired by those who use it for both its beauty and functionality, it has received high praise from the school’s director for far exceeding their expectations in every way while staying well within the budget. The Institute Award is a prestigious addition to a growing roster of recognition from its peers, including the 2006 AIA Iowa Honor Award for Excellence, and a glowing critique from renowned architecture critic Blair Kamin, who states:
“Holl hasn’t just made a knock-your-eyes-out building…He’s made a real place, one that painters carting around their canvases actually seem to like….Because of its flexibility and Holl’s creativity, Iowa’s art building uplifts both its users and its site….[Holl] understands artists , being both an accomplished watercolorist and designer of the acclaimed Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art…he figured out how to marry a relatively tight budget with an aesthetic appropriate for an art school.” (Architectural Record, Jan. 2007)
The award further emphasizes Steven Holl Architects’ reputation for crafting buildings for the arts that are both highly functional and aesthetically engaging. Such projects, including the renowned Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art (Helsinki, Finland) and the highly anticipated Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art (Kansas City, MO – to open in June), are recognized for blending space and light with contextual sensitivity and utilizing the unique qualities of each project to create a concept-driven design.
Steven Holl Architects was commissioned for the School of Art & Art History in 1999. More recently the office has won a number of international design competitions, including Herning Center of the Arts (Herning, Denmark), Cité du Surf et de l’Océan (Biarritz, France), Sail Hybrid (Knokke-Heist, Belgium), Meander (Helsinki, Finland), and Vanke Center (Shenzhen, China) and was commissioned for a residential project in Ørestad (Copenhagen, Denmark).