Architect of new UI art building speaks

BY JON FRANK | APRIL 22, 2011 7:20 AM

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World-renowned architect Steven Holl said he plans to incorporate the environment and plenty of natural lighting in the University of Iowa's new Visual Arts Building.

Holl spoke about his ideas for the building Thursday in front of a crowd of roughly 100 at the Pomerantz Center.

The lights were dimmed as Holl's projector displayed drawings, blueprints, and final products of the projects he's completed around the globe — New York, Denmark, China, and Iowa City, where he designed the UI's Art Building West.

"This is one of my favorite projects," he said as the projector displayed a photo of Art Building West before the 2008 flood. "My heart just sank to see the building empty."

Holl said he's in the preliminary stages of designing the Visual Arts Building.

"It's definitely going to be about the interconnections of art," he said.

The final cost for the project is uncertain but will likely fall between $70 million and $80 million, said Rod Lehnertz, the UI director of Planning, Design, and Construction for UI Facilities Management. But the Federal Emergency Management Agency will absorb the bulk of the cost — up to 90 percent, depending on how much of the budget is deemed eligible under the agency's guidelines.

"At this point, it's tough to determine what the eligible cost will be," Lehnertz said, noting the that the UI and FEMA still have to solve many issues regarding design, cost, and the original building.

Lehnertz said he's proud to have Holl on the case.

"There are few architects worldwide that have the creativity Steve Holl has," he said.

UI officials have pinpointed a site northwest of Art Building West for the new building. The UI owns the property.

UI Facilities Management senior architect Beverly Robalino laid out a very rough and tentative draft for building plans, which, she said, is subject to change.

Robalino said she hopes to see construction begin in the winter of 2013 and for the building to open its doors in the fall of 2016.

"It all depends on just getting certain decisions made by FEMA and the university," she said.

Chris McVoy, one of Holl's partners, said he is excited to begin designing the new UI building.

"Light can be key in the creation of artworks," said McVoy, and the group wants to focus on spatial energy and create an environmentally advanced product. "[Artists use] light in general as an inspiration."

Since the closure of the Art Building during the 2008 flood, UI students have been forced to make the journey out to the Studio Arts Building, 1375 Highway 1 W., a location many students find inconvenient and undesirable.

"The lighting's not very good," said Lauren Hayes, a UI junior 3-D design major. "For art students who like to see something pretty that's designed well, it's not ideal."

Lehnertz said getting UI students out of the temporary location and back on campus is university officials' "No. 1 priority."

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