In today’s polarized political and social climate, it has never been more important to celebrate cultural institutions that transcend divides and bring communities together. Architect Steven Holl recognizes this as much as anyone, and one of his firm’s newest projects — the Institute for Contemporary Art at Virginia Commonwealth University — is a manifestation of this mission. The building acts as a vital “social condenser” for the town of Richmond, and forms a worthy winner of one of four Project of the Year awards as part of the 2018 A+Awards.
Take an exclusive tour through the building with the architect himself, thanks to this stunning short film by our friends at Plane—Site:“I think it’s one of our most important buildings, and I’m very grateful and honored to receive this award,” said Steven Holl. The building’s bold, sculptural form, standing in contrast to its context, is the first thing that makes the Institute stand out to passersby.
“This notion that buildings have to be traditional because they’re in a traditional setting isn’t necessarily true, especially when you’re working with young people and you’re working with art,” explained the architect. “A contemporary art museum is about [asking] questions; it’s about looking forward.”
When Virginia Commonwealth University commissioned Steven Holl Architects, it was seeking a landmark building, and the firm did not disappoint. The building’s fluid skin and striking cantilevers make it an instant icon that challenges its surroundings.
“It’s really a gateway building,” said the architect. “This is the busiest intersection in the center of Richmond, one of the most conservative towns in America, but it’s totally radical. It has nothing to do with Richmond brick architecture.”
Perhaps the most radical element of the design is the building’s metallic outer skin, which is as much a work of art as the exhibits contained within. The twisting zinc cladding — which Holl refers to as the “plane of the present” — stretches between the street-facing façades, reflecting sunlight throughout the day.
For this pivotal moment within the project, material choice was key. “I chose Rheinzink very early on for the skin, because it’s super cost-effective, it’s pre-weathered blue-green, and it’ll deal with the pollution in the center of the town,” explained the architect.
As well as lending the building a dynamic aesthetic externally, the Institute’s form also creates an internal layout that invites exploration and curiosity. “You come in and you feel drawn to move up, because there’s this spiraling ascension in the geometry of the central space,” said Holl.
The branching galleries and central auditorium — complete with a window that allows passersby to gaze into the space — all lend themselves to communal interaction, reinforcing the idea of the building as a communal hub that uses art as a social catalyst.
The most important aspect of the Institute, for Holl, is its ability to bring people together, including those that have never been to an art museum before, and the young people of the university itself. With a building as striking as this one, there is no doubt that people from throughout United States and beyond will convene here for years to come.
In addition to the VCU Institute for Contemporary Art by Steven Holl Architects, three further Projects of the Year have been given Special Honoree A+Awards this year; they are:
These projects demonstrate extraordinary contributions to the profession across the globe, highlighting buildings that champion architecture’s potential to positively impact everyday life.
Stay tuned for information on the 2019 A+Awards, coming soon!
Explore all the winners and finalists from the sixth annual A+Awards, featuring incredible projects by firms from all over the world: