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Steven Holl: art department building, Iowa City, USA.

This new building by Steven Holl extends the University of Iowa's department of art and art history. The site lies on the university campus next to a lake and a limestone cliff, at the point at which Iowa's city grid begins to fragment and break up. Holl's new building partially bridges the lake and partially connects with the limestone cliff--the manmade merging with the natural world.

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Clad in prefabricated steel plates, Holl envisages the building as an adaptable, responsive armature for the many different sorts of activities involved with art teaching and practice. Flexible spaces open out from studios in warm weather and the main horizontal passageways are conceived as meeting places, revealing work in progress. Spaces and circulation routes follow fluid, informal geometries designed to encourage all kinds of social interaction.

Physically, the building is made up of flat and curved steel plates slotted together or assembled with hinged sections. Metal sheets gain in strength when folded, while using a mimimum amount of material. The principles of this basic and extremely economical type of construction find a new and imaginative form of expression in Holl's hands; base matter transmuted into art. The richness of the architectural language is further developed in the inventive employment and combination of workaday elements, such as fluorescent tubes for lighting concealed by the bottom flanges of steel beams, the merging of painted ductwork and steel structure and the exposed tension rods in the bridge structure. The interiors gain their character through this gritty, functional aesthetic.

Around the perimeter of the building, spaces overlook, overlap and engage with the changing natural landscape, celebrating fleeting natural phenomena such as sunlight reflected on water and winter snowfall. The rust red colour of the oxidised steel plate alludes to the red brick of the art department's original building (built in 1937) and the new block's low-slung, landscape-hugging profile also recalls the form of its predecessor. Conceived as an ensemble of generous, luminous spaces enhanced by connection with the natural world, Holl's new building is a creative instrument of art production and dissemination. C. S.

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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Learning
Publication:The Architectural Review
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2005
Words:362
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