UI breaks ground on new Art Building


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Although the presence of cranes, construction crews, and congestion continue to make their mark, the discontinuation of one Cambus route will stand as a true return for a still-missing piece of the University of Iowa campus.

To a nearly packed auditorium in a flood-damaged Arts Campus facility that has been restored, the University of Iowa, world-renowned architects, and members of the Iowa City community celebrated on Sept. 27 with an official groundbreaking for a new art building.

During a presentation dubbed “The Iowa Idea,” university and architectural officials from Steven Holl Architects — New York and its partner firm BNIM — Des Moines presented a virtual walkthrough of how the newest piece to the Arts Campus will look, feel, and balance among other facilities, including Art Building West.

Common themes came about in discussions of the new four-floor, 126,000-square-foot art-building replacement, dubbed the Visual Arts Building and its neighbor, Art Building West.

Walking through the audience of a virtual and historic breakdown of the Arts Campus, John Beldon Scott, the director of the UI School of Art and Art History, said that once built, the facility will signal phase five in the architectural history of the school.

“We are here today to celebrate a new era,” he said.

Chaden Djalali, UI dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, said he is counting the days until the facility’s opening, calling it the next chapter in local art.

“We are the vanguard of the future of arts and arts history,” he said, citing recent UI fine-arts program in national rankings by U.S. News & World Report.

For Rod Lehnertz, director of planning, design, and construction for UI Facilities Management, the unveiling of sorts signaled an emotional period.

“This was the first building that I managed,” he said, standing in Art Building West’s Auditorium 240, adding that while it was difficult for him to see the structure under 4 feet of water in the summer of 2008, its aggressive return was very symbolic.

When open, Lehnertz said, the new facility will stand among other notable and award-winning UI projects that have been constructed over the years, with designs by such architects as Frank Gehry and Cesar Pelli.  

He continued that the creativity and progressive notions that are present on the Arts Campus can be found across the Iowa City area. Because of this, he said, “Architects come to our campus and will continue to do so.”

Situated between North Riverside Drive and the Iowa River, the 1936 Art Building was heavily damaged in the 2008 flood. Since then, Art Building West and the former Menards store on Highway 1 West have served as interim facilities.

The new facility, set to open in spring of 2016, will be situated up the hill to the northwest of Art Building West within feet of several UI fraternities and the Manville Heights neighborhood. The Departments of Metals, Ceramics, Sculpture, Printmaking, 3D Multimedia, and Photography will be housed in the building.

Contrast to the former building’s brick façade, the new structure will be white stained concrete, weathered in blue/grey zinc and a matte bead blasted steel, and contain numerous windows arranged in different sizes to capture the most sunlight. A number of outdoor seating areas, including a green rooftop and design spaces are also planned.

The UI’s goal is to achieve Gold LEED certification for the building.

The Sept. 27 event succeeds the on-going demolition of the Hancher complex, which began Sept. 23 and the demolition of the UI old art building.

University spokesman Tom Moore said the new facility was important.

“Replacing the UI Art Building is a crucial component of creating a world-class fine-arts campus,” he said in a statement. “The road ahead is still long, but the day when we can return our arts students, faculty, and staff to their rightful home is one step closer.”

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