The bar for architects is set high when they’re designing a space with artists in mind. It’s a challenge Chris McVoy eagerly took on.
“We love to make architecture for art,” said McVoy, a lead designer on the new Visual Arts Building at the University of Iowa in Iowa City.
The new building, now under construction, houses studio space for a wide range of activities in traditional media like painting, ceramics and sculpture. But it also carves out space for programs in digital arts. McVoy and his partner, Steven Holl, sought a design that would promote cross-pollination across the various programs the school offers.
“We love to make architecture for art.” -Chris McVoy, senior partner, Steven Holl Architects
“The lines between media are breaking down,” he said. “You have a video artist who might make a textile and then project a video on that textile. You have the most advanced 3D prototyping and digital fabricating processes alongside kilns and welding torches. So we created a loft-like factory with big, horizontal floor plates that allow for openness of creative activity.”
Vertical cutouts pierce the building’s four stories, admitting natural light and offering views of activities on different levels of the structure. Stairways are wide and include generous landings, offering inviting spaces for formal or informal group meetings. Outdoor terraces on every level create additional opportunities for interaction.
The building is made of exposed concrete with radiant heating and cooling built into the structure, serving both practical and aesthetic ends.
“You get more space,” McVoy said. “It allows higher ceilings and little ductwork. So that plays into art – you have more room. The proportions are generous.”
“The environment that buildings can shape is a key to the educational experience.”Chris McVoy
Winston Churchill once said, “We shape our buildings, and afterward, they shape us.” McVoy said he kept that quote in mind with the design of the new visual arts building.
“The University of Iowa is a particularly enlightened university,” McVoy said. “They understand the value that architecture can bring to education. The environment that buildings can shape is a key to the educational experience.”