Art Building West

Art Building West

Art Building West

What You'll Find Here

  • Art Library
  • Cicero's Café
  • Gallery
  • School of Art and Art History administrative offices
  • Classrooms, studios, and faculty offices


141 North Riverside Drive
Formal Name: 
Art Building West
Steven Holl Architects, New York / HLKB Architecture, Des Moines, Iowa

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.

The site on Hutchinson Quarry Pond, recommended by Steven Holl for its visual appeal, creates an informal quad for the school. That relationship is reinforced by the choice of a weathering Corten steel facing that reflects the red brick of George Horner’s original Art Building. Because this building had to be a work of art itself, Holl sought inspiration in Pablo Picasso’s 1912 sculpture, Guitar (Museum of Modern Art, New York). The conceit 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. Art and nature merge sympathetically.

Designing around the school’s artistic needs, as well as those of the site, led Holl to create a building of custom exteriors. Channel glass along the north façade and sawtooth skylighting maximize valuable northern light for studios and are examples of the unique glazing of Holl’s design. The cantilever tilts upward dramatically, while inside, the extreme projecting end houses the Art Library’s imposing two-story reading room. Art Building West plays with a certain fuzziness, allowing walls and structure to exist independently and different planes to project in unanticipated ways. Employing a concept he designated “horizontal porosity,” Holl opens up interior walls unexpectedly to bring light to the innermost spaces of the building. 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. Turquoise wall accents reference the watery setting while also recalling the distant days of High Modernism and the International style.


Art Building West is totally accessible.

The main entrance is on the east side of the building facing North Riverside Drive. The service entrance is on the west side. Both entrances are accessible and have power door operators.
There is accessible parking available in the lot west of the building.
Accessible restrooms are located on each floor.
The main elevator is located in the east portion of the building. The service elevator on the west end is also accessible.