Visual Arts Building, University of Iowa

The new Visual Arts facility for the University of Iowa’s School or Art and Art History provides 126,000 SF of loft-like space for the departments of ceramics, sculpture, metals, photography, print making and 3D multimedia. Also included are graduate student studios, faculty and staff studios and offices, and gallery space.


Steven Holl Architects’ (SHA) design for the building is a celebration of the inherent permeability of the structure. The exterior geometry is defined by cut outs along the façade to emphasize this porosity. L’Observatoire collaborated with SHA on using the building’s architecture to serve as an inherent fixture, and thus minimize the need for additional light sources.


L’Observatoire’s lighting concept focused on leveraging Holl’s cutouts to bring natural light into the building’s public spaces, which are aligned with these perforations. Given the opacity of the glass, however, additional linear LED fixtures were incorporated around the frame to enhance the light entering the space. Overhead lighting within the building is also concentrated in public spaces to reflect increased density in those areas. Light sources were incorporated into handrails within the building’s atrium in order to conceal fixtures when possible. Clearstory windows were used in classrooms to capture natural light from the building’s public areas.

Location Iowa City, IA, USA
Date Completed 2016
Architect Steven Holl Architects
Mechanical Engineer Design Engineers
Client University of Iowa
Type Universities + Libraries
size126,000 ft2 / 11,700 m2
Status Built

L'Observatoire Intl Team
Principal Hervé Descottes
Project Leader Jeff Taylor
Project Team Papon Kasettratat
Awards IES Illumination Award of Merit , 2018
Press Architectural Record, Nov 2016
LD+A, Mar 2019
Photo Credits Visual Arts Building University of Iowa, Steven Holl