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Also Seen: University of Iowa Art & Art History Building by Steven Holl Architects


The University of Iowa has a long history of commissioning inspirational architecture, and Steven Holl Architects’ design for the university’s Art & Art History building is no exception.

The building gives form to the innovative interdisciplinary educational model of the school by integrating dynamic spaces within implied volumes and indeterminate boundaries; it is a hybrid instrument for the practice and analysis of art based on the idea of ‘open edges and center.’

Unfortunately, the building’s original form was doomed to a short life—open for only two years before sustaining significant damage from flooding in 2008. But thanks to some dedicated administrators, faculty and designers, this striking building has been fully renovated and will be ready for students in the fall.

Partially straddling a pond and an adjacent limestone bluff, the building’s assemblage of glass and steel planes is woven into the site, creating new campus spaces, pathways and connections to the landscape. Necessitated by the constraints of the site, an elevated wing containing the library program extends out over the pond, with reading spaces engaging the vertical landscape of the bluff to one side and the existing art facility to the other.

Within the building, “formless” spaces work as a condenser of people, practice and theory. The 70,000-square-foot building houses an auditorium, classrooms, an art library, studios, an art gallery, faculty offices, meeting rooms and a café. Glass walls line the building’s interior passages, revealing works-in-progress within studio classrooms and giving views throughout. In warm weather studios open up to exterior balconies.

Natural finishes and exposed materials such as concrete floors and ceilings give material character to the Art & Art History building.

“Walking into the new building is like walking around inside a work of art—it is truly an aesthetic experience. It is amazing how space can transform how you think and feel about your work,” says Dorothy Johnson, director of the School of Art and Art History.