Van Allen Hall
Van Allen Hall
One of twenty buildings completed during the presidency of Howard R. Bowen (1964–1969), Van Allen Hall is a manifestation of both Bowen’s strong support of the sciences and the critical importance of its namesake’s work. James A. Van Allen, a native Iowan, earned his Ph.D. at the University of Iowa and taught in the physics department for decades. Using rocket-launched balloons as early satellites, Van Allen discovered high densities of radiation in the Earth’s upper atmosphere, phenomena now known as the Van Allen Belts. His findings earned him the May 4, 1958, cover of Time magazine, a National Medal of Science, and membership in the National Academy of Science. Van Allen Hall continues to house the physics and astronomy faculty from which he retired in 1986.
James Van Allen’s space-age research finds expression in the architecture of Van Allen Hall. Its Modernist concrete façade is adamantly antitraditional and anticlassical, rejecting the ornamentation of the campus’s Beaux-Arts buildings and replacing it with a machine aesthetic. Curtain walls, standardization, and a quasi-modular design make for a building that was not only economical to construct but also in sympathy with the collaborative spirit of the scientists and NASA engineers working inside. Functionality and productivity are key contributors to the design intent. The Brutalist ferro-concete canopies supported on center piers at the west entrance express the malleability and strength of modern materials. An observatory is visible above the roofline, and the building’s auditorium—a single-story, slab-roof-covered auditorium attached to a multi-use, multistory structure—makes Van Allen visually consistent with other buildings on the Iowa Avenue Campus.
The building offers limited accessibility to persons with disabilities.