Recently, we visited the Meulensteen gallery to hear an update on Steven Holl’s latest project in Virginia - the Institute for Contemporary Art at Virginia Commonwealth University. Slated for completion in 2015, the project was presented in a series of Holl’s trademark watercolors and models, complete with a slideshow given by project architect Dimitra Tsachrelia who previously worked on the Glasgow School of Art for the firm. As we shared earlier, the project’s formal gestures are a reaction to its site context along the busy intersection of Richmond at Broad and Belvidere, with the intention to create an open gateway with a building that forks in the X-Y direction to illustrate the “non-linear” path of art, and torques in the Z direction to shape a dynamic volume of circulation. Although the weather was quite unforgiving, those who packed into the gallery enjoyed Tsachrelia’s friendly demeanor as she walked us through the process and progress of the project. More about the event after the break.
Arranged in a chronological fashion, watercolor sketches and plaster and wood models lined the perimeter of the gallery, giving the visitors a complete overview of project’s evolution. Tsachrelia explained that the models were all working tools and it was not uncommon for Holl to sketch a few lines and comments on the models to explore and critic possibilities.
Tsachrelia explained that Holl always begins a project with a vision for a central interior space as a way to guide the designers to reach the ultimate intention, which, for this project is the best setting for art to be both displayed and viewed. While the watercolors may represent the building in its entirety, or a conceptual idea, or a finite detail, it was interesting to see the progression made in the built environment when translating those visions into a three-dimensional space.
As we have shared earlier, the project strongly marks its presence at the corner to create an identity for the street. The angled legs of the museum open onto a public area with a contemplative garden featuring native Virginian species, and Tsachrelia noted the idea of the building “sheltering the garden”. The openness of the space encourages a circulation flow of students and community through the space, and provides a setting to view the architecture’s changing elevations.
Tsachrelia explained that the material chosen for the exterior would catch the light in a particular way so as not to over-reflect and cause glare, but rather it will gently show the environment and the building’s surroundings. The exterior will also serve, in some sense, as a blank canvas where art projections can be displayed anywhere on the building.
Toward the end of the evening, Tsachrelia shared a little tidbit with us that Holl always doubts his concepts in the beginning of a project. While we were surprised to hear this, Tsachrelia went on to explain that this doubt strengthens the work of the office as Holl and his team continually try to capture the spirit of the concept and push the boundary of what is expected. Seeing the study models was a great way to see this process taking shape, as it was evident the range of possibilities explored and then developed to reach the final result.
We look forward to following up with the project, and seeing its progression through construction and completion. Please refer to our previous coverage for more information.