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A Visually Dramatic Appearance

College’s new visual arts building uses zinc to create an industrial aesthetic

Iowa Visual Arts Center Dec17 1
Photo: Mark Kempf Photography, St. Louis

The Visual Arts Building is the second project designed by New York City-based Steven Holl Architects on the University of Iowa campus in Iowa City, Iowa. The first project, the Art Building West, was completed in 2006 and is located adjacent to the new Visual Arts Building, which replaces an original arts building from 1936 that was heavily damaged during a June 2008 flood. Even though the two buildings are dramatically different in design and materials, Holl says they are complementary.

The 126,000-square-foot, loft-like Visual Arts Building presents an industrial aesthetic. Home to the ceramics, sculpture, metals, photography, printmaking and 3-D media departments, the building is made up of poured-in-place concrete walls wrapped in metal wall panels from RHEINZINK America Inc, Woburn, Mass. The southwestern and southeastern elevations—which overlook Art Building West and where the main entrances are located—are covered in perforated stainless steel panels that rest 7 inches from the RHEINZINK cladding.

Judge Chuck Bloszies notes that Holl’s work lends itself to the use of metals that are crisp and simple, because the forms are crisp and simple. He goes on to say that he likes the perforated metal and the screen effect, which gives some texture and depth of façade. And juxtaposed with the channel glass on the curving surfaces, it’s perfect. “I think the materials and the forms are working very well with each other,” he adds.


Photo: Mark Kempf Photography, St. Louis

Custom Designs

Cologne, Germany-based POHL Group custom-designed, engineered and fabricated both the RHEINZINK panels and the stainless steel panels. The company is a RHEINZINK systems partner, and has a location in West Valley City, Utah. Approximately 38,000 square feet of prePATINA blue-grey RHEINZINK was fabricated in Germany and shipped ready-to-install to the U.S. The 1.5-mm RHEINZINK rainscreen system was created specifically for the design.

Thorsten Evenkamp, vice president/head of sales at POHL, says Steven Holl Architects came to them with the challenge. “We invested a tremendous amount of engineering effort in the design of the custom zinc and stainless steel systems,” he says.

The perforated stainless steel panels bring natural light deep into the building through a series of scooped setbacks. “At the same time, the horizontal RHEINZINK panels have the effect of unifying the diverse building structure,” Evenkamp says. “There was no caulking involved with the rainscreen system. In terms of durability and sustainability, it’s really state of the art. We love working with natural metals and this project is truly a landmark building.”

Along with Holl, senior partner Chris McVoy led the design team. Holl notes that they did more than 30 design schemes. “It was a very long process, but we were very dedicated to finding the right fit,” he says. “I’m very, very proud of the results. It’s a very economical building, which was another big challenge.”

Judge Chuck Wray says the project is elegant. “You’ve got this strong façade, this strong plane that has been punctuated and pulled back,” he says, “and you get this tremendous feeling of a box that’s been completely pushed and pulled.”

“The materiality really defines the edge,” Wray adds. “The metal paneling, the screening, defines mostly the edge, and the channel glass that complements it is a very nice. It visually pulls you inside the building, from even being outside. It’s just an elegant composition.”

Judge John Bencher adds that the project does an excellent job of using different kinds of metal, each of them integrated and detailed well against the other one.


Photo: Mark Kempf Photography, St. Louis

Exterior Envelope

Architectural Wall Systems (AWS), Des Moines, Iowa, worked on the entire exterior envelope and installed the RHEINZINK panels. AWS also has considerable experience working with POHL profiles. “The panels came to us prefabricated from Germany,” explains Sam Arnold, AWS project manager. “Our goal was to minimize field fabrication and to allow our installers to have everything they needed on-site to complete the installation as efficiently as possible.”

According to Arnold there are 13,000 holes in a specific pattern in each of the stainless steel perforated panels that were continuous with punched windows across the south and west elevations. The RHEINZINK panels have returns into all of the windows, and curved RHEINZINK panels are used on the building’s vegetative roof to clad large skylights.

“We really like the dramatic change of the cladding appearance in daytime and nighttime,” says Evenkamp. “During the daytime, the stainless steel skin panels appear massive and heavy, and the window openings behind the cladding are disguised behind the screen panels. During the nighttime, the windows throw the light from the inside through the cladding make the screen panels appear transparent.”