University of Iowa Art Building West
University of Iowa Art Building West

University of Iowa Art Building West

Iowa City, Iowa

68,340 GSF

One of the foremost examples of contemporary architecture on campus, this building renews the University’s commitment to the “Iowa Idea” of linking humanists and artists. Space for the studio and academic study of art has been reconsolidated here, making up for decades of splintering in various places around campus.

Because this building had to be a work of art itself, Architect Stephen Holl sought inspiration in Pablo Picasso’s 1912 sculpture, Guitar (Museum of Modern Art, New York). The concept is visible in the cantilevered wing—the instrument’s fret board—and its curved east façade—the soundbox. The dynamic forms of Art Building West engage and energize the lagoon, weaving it into the life of the campus and encouraging people to linger by the water and adjacent limestone bluff. In the atrium, a seemingly self-supporting steel stair evokes the revolutionary early twentieth-century style of Russian Constructivism and acts as a floating piece of sculpture in this community space.


  • All MEP systems were integrated into the structure where possible, utilizing thickened precast core slabs for supply air distribution, fire suppression piping, electrical, lighting, and telecommunications data pathways.
  • A majority of the mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and technology equipment was located in the basement level, below the water table. Special design precautions were taken to ensure water tightness.
  • Sump pumps and strategically located collection points were identified and installed where leakage would most likely occur.
  • Alvine Engineering provided consulting services for the design of the low voltage systems including telecommunications structured wiring, audiovisual systems, and electronic access control. Because of the intricate architectural design of the building, the technology systems design required a hands-on approach with the architect and design team to ensure the requirements of the University of Iowa design standards meshed with the needs of the building program and budget.

Photography credit: Christian Richters Photography

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