Iowa Advanced Technology Laboratories

Iowa Advanced Technology Laboratories

Iowa Advanced Technology Laboratories

What You'll Find Here

  • Iowa Advanced Technology Laboratories
  • Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research
  • Nanoscience and Nanotechnology Institute
  • Optical Science and Technology Center


205 North Madison Street
Formal Name: 
Iowa Advanced Technology Laboratories
Frank O. Gehry, Los Angeles, California / HLKB Architecture, Des Moines, Iowa

President James O. Freedman (1982–1987) sponsored the enterprise to attract laser scientists to campus using a high-design building as a magnet. Today the Iowa Advanced Technology Laboratories building continues to play an important role in the University’s pursuit of scientific research. Functioning as a research facility for several University units, the building acts as a cluster site for the applied sciences. The chemistry and physics faculty make use of the space, as do the chemical and biological engineering, civil and environmental engineering, electrical and computer engineering, and mechanical engineering departments. IATL also houses the Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, the Optical Science and Technology Center, and part of the Center for Computer-Aided Design. This iconic building serves as an incubator of interdisciplinary exchanges among a range of cutting-edge fields while expressing through good contemporary design the dynamic character of initiatives in the applied and theoretical sciences at the University of Iowa.

It could be said that the march to Bilbao began here. Designed by Frank O. Gehry, IATL is an important transitional building in his evolution as an architect, from the fragmented rectilinear compositions of his California phase (Aerospace Museum, Los Angeles, 1981) to the curvilinear extravaganza of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain (1997). Experientially, IATL is really two buildings, one as seen from the Main Campus North and the other from the Arts Campus and pedestrian bridge over the Iowa River. The windowless east façade is pure monumental Minimalist sculpture, à la Claes Oldenburg and Carl André—with a copper-clad “fish” (a favorite anti-historicist symbol of Gehry’s with overlapping metal plates suggesting fish scales) pushed against a huge Iowa-limestone-faced slab wall. The cladding of the fish contains hints of the irregularly curved surfaces that soon came to dominate Gehry’s work. By contrast, the river façade at first appears to be a riot of shattered forms, but, in fact, is organized in three wings (only the foundation of the north and final wing was completed). This spectacular composition is inspired by the stark geometry of Iowa farmscape architecture. Hints of sheds and silos pop up here and there in the ensemble, displaying a Postmodernist fondness for referencing locality, with metal cladding (in this case stainless steel). The burnished exterior skin of the conference room facing southwest is the one concession to irregular curvilinear form on this side of the building.

As the visitor traverses the south plaza in front of the main entrance and continues toward the river, the geometries explode kinetically, fanning out to the dazzled eyes of the passersby. IATL is experiential architecture and negates traditional concepts of what a building should be. When seen from the pedestrian bridge in the late afternoon, the play of light on the metal surfaces animates Gehry’s radical design with a constantly shifting configuration of light and shade and a minute-by-minute transition from white, to pink, to red, to gold shimmering across the metal cladding and reflecting on the water’s surface. The Iowa Chapter of the American Institute of Architects designated IATL as one of the top one hundred buildings erected in the state in the twentieth century.


The building is accessible to persons with disabilities.

The Iowa Advanced Technology Laboratories is reached from Madison Street via a ramp to the courtyard between the building and the Iowa Memorial Union. The accessible entrance is located directly opposite the north entrance to the Union at the south end of the stainless steel portion of the building. The door is equipped with a power door opener.
The nearest identified accessible parking is located in the North Campus Parking Ramp across Madison Street to the northeast. The vehicular entrance to the parking ramp is located at the north end of Madison Street. Exit the parking ramp to the west to access the building.
All restrooms in the building are accessible to persons with disabilities.
The building elevator is located in the center of the building past the reception counter.