Steven Holl: Architect from Hell

I am outraged that the University of Iowa has, for a second time, selected architect Steven Holl to design a new building on the Arts Campus. Holl was previously commissioned to design the Art Building West to replace the old art building that was heavily damaged in floods in 1993. However, Holl disregarded the primary design goal, to build above the flood plain. In fact, he built it even lower than the previous flood-damaged buildings. He could easily have built the building a few feet uphill from its present site, avoiding the flood risk, but Holl fell in love with a pond on the site, and built the building at the level of the pond, well below the level of the flood plain. And of course the building was flooded and seriously damaged during the floods of June 2008. Now Holl is commissioned to build another Art Department building adjacent to the old building, just uphill, where he should have built the first building. Here is a photo of the old building during the flood, taken from the position of the new building’s site, notice that the new site is above the flood waters.


I attended the opening of Art Building West in 2006 and met Steven Holl. I intended to produce a full review of the building’s architecture and the architect, but I was so livid at the outrageous problems with the building, I decided to wait until I cooled off before writing my scathing review. But it has been years since the opening, and now I am angrier than ever. So I will have to write my review. It will take some effort to write it clearly when I am so angry at Holl, but let me preview the most salient point.
Holl’s distinctive architectural features, his staircases, are a hazard to the occupants of the building. Before the new Art Building had even opened, one visitor was seriously injured, falling down a staircase because it did not conform to building codes. The building will continue to injure people for as long as it is in use. Fortunately, the building has not been used since the 2008 floods.
I am outraged that the University of Iowa would, once again, hire this architect to design another building. No doubt he will design another similar building, with features that are designed to please the architect, but disregard the safety of the building’s occupants.

One thought on “Steven Holl: Architect from Hell”

  1. Having worked as a drafter for a commercial architect for some years (many years ago, I admit), I wonder why anyone would design an art building that looked so much like a warehouse, regardless of staircases or flood plains.
    [Artists like warehouses and industrial buildings, they are common as artists lofts. I used to live and work in one. But that isn’t the problem with this building. And there are multiple major problems. As a draftsman, you will probably appreciate the original problem: he designed the building with crayons and watercolors. –Charles]

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