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    Steven Holl's second building in Iowa City

    By jtwang
    Jun 26, '12 10:40 PM EST

    The University of Iowa, located in Iowa City, has always been Iowa State's bitter rival. Even though Iowa State has an architecture program and U Iowa does not, the University of Iowa boasts work by Charles Gwathmey, Frank Gehry, and Steven Holl. Imagine our jealousy at discovering that Steven Holl has been commissioned for yet another building in Iowa City.

    Ironically, his existing building in Iowa City—with library, office, lecture, and studio space for art students—was nearly destroyed in a devastating flood in 2008. The committee originally intended to place the building on a different site that would be above the floodplain. But Holl fell in love with its current site, situated over a pond next to a limestone cliff, placing the building squarely in the floodplain.

    On a fieldtrip in 2009.

    You can see the high-water mark on the cor-ten at the left.

    The rough state of the interior in 2009.

    Repairs for the project were completed recently, and I was able to go inside for the first time this weekend (alas, I didn't take a camera). Overall, the building was really impressive, and seems to have been restored to its original condition. It is one of those buildings that is more impressive in person than in photos (Holl's official photos here). There was a great connection to the landscape, lighting conditions were awesome, and the central stair was amazing. It also connected successfully to the suburban neighborhood. Children from the neighborhood can often be seen playing around the pond. A multi-million dollar retractable floodwall system was added to the site to prevent further damage (yay FEMA).

    Ironically, Steven Holl's next building will replace another building that was destroyed by the same flood, the old art building, which means that the entire art department at Iowa will be stored in Steven Holl structures.

    The University of Iowa released some preliminary images for the new building, which I don't think have received much publicity, so I will post them here. The original article can be found here.

    The red "formless instrument" is the existing. The proposed is the plexi/brown building in back.

    These renderings and models are still early, but it looks like Holl's studio has chosen to make a very different building from its neighbor. To me, it seems that some great opportunities to engage the existing structure are ignored, especially in the site planning. The massing and fenestration implies that the new structure will be much more inward-looking, in contrast to the existing building's prevalent site engagement.

    Holl's work in existing contexts is often about engaging contrasts, making new buildings the opposite of existing buildings. At the Nelson-Atkins he designed a "feather" to contrast an existing "stone." But when the existing building is one of his own projects, less than a decade older than the new, it becomes more difficult to understand the contrasting logic of the two buildings. In any case, I'm quite interested to see what comes out of this second Holl building in Iowa City.

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