Tag Archives: steven holl


Intertwining by Steven Holl
Princeton Architectural Press, 1996
Hardcover, 176 pages

About halfway through Steven Holl's second small-format monograph for Princeton Architectural Press sits the Museum of Contemporary Art in Helsinki, Finland. Better known as Kiasma, the building's concept lies in the intertwining of nature and culture, determined by site, program and imagination. The project's location in the book is intentional, it serving as an important marker in Holl's career, where he becomes an architect on the international scene, where he abandons strict orthogonality for an architecture that embraces curves, and where the scale of his built work grows beyond primarily houses and interiors. With the first monograph, Anchoring, covering buildings and projects from 1975-1988 and Intertwining spanning 1989-1995, the next installment is just about due, with many notable designs continuing the architects development beyond these two initial concepts.

Simmons Hall

Simmons Hall in Cambridge, Massachusetts by Steven Holl Architects, 2002.

The newly-opened Simmons Hall, on the Massachusetts Institute of Technology campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is part of M.I.T.'s ambition to impart unique contemporary architecture on their expanding campus. Including buildings by Frank Gehry, Kevin Roche and Fumihiko Maki, Steven Holl's undergraduate residence hall (with Perry Dean Rogers Partners Architects) stands out with its conceptual clarity and brazen imagery. Envisioned with the idea of "porosity", the building is seen as part of the city and campus form, slices of each stacked ten stories tall and almost 400 feet long.

Both in plan and section, the building is composed of two types of openings: five large-scale openings that correspond to entries, views and outdoor spaces, and over 3,000 small-scale openings acting as windows. Each of the 350 dorm rooms looks out from an amazing nine windows (click for image)! Built with a "perfcon" structure, each opening is 2 x 2 feet and 18 inches deep, allowing for winter light to enter while shading the rooms from the summer sun. A number of these smaller openings connect to the interior and act as the "lungs" of the building, drawing air into and up through the building. The image at left illustrates the different colors applied to the head and jambs, creating identity for each "house" within the overall structure.

Internally the building is as complex as its exterior. Wide corridors connect the dorm rooms and the building's amenities: dining, fitness center and a theater, among other facilities. Eight atria connect the floors vertically in a manner more flowing than rigid, contrasting the regimented exterior (click for section). The combination of circulation with dorm rooms and ancillary functions is the primary programmatic solution that reinforces the notion of the building as a slice of the city. Parts of the city are lifted into the building and inserted next to internal streets, for use by students and their guests, in effect making the building a contemporary re-interpretation of Le Corbusier's Unite d'Habitation in Marseilles, France.

In Simmons Hall, which opened to residents recently, architect Steven Holl successfully continues to translate conceptual ideas into impressive buildings that can stand alone without knowledge of their impetus. But the strength of his designs allows the observer to discover the ideas: here the large and small openings speak of the building's porosity, while the internal interactions act as a micro-urban condition. Aside from the building's praises as a stand-alone object, it is a part of a larger whole; it is part of a campus and a city. In reflecting the greater condition into which it is inserted, ideally Simmons Hall will give back to M.I.T. and Cambridge through its quality spatial and interactive experiences.

[Google Earth link]

A New World Trade Center

A New World Trade Center

A New World Trade Center: Design Proposals in New York, NY by various architects, 2002.

Organized by Max Protetch, the exhibit "A New World Trade Center: Design Proposals" is featured at the Max Protetch Gallery in New York City through February 16. Included here are five submissions included in the exhibit.

Above is "Floating Memorial/Folded Street" by Steven Holl, with Makram El-Kadi and Ziad Jameleddine.

Next is "Zero Zones" by Raimund Abraham which features three buildings situated so sunlight pierces slats in the buildings each day at the exact times the planes hit the WTC Towers.

Above is "Oblique WTC" by Lars Spuybroek of Nox Architects:

"Elevators form a highly complex structure of diagonals where at some platforms more than five or six different cores come together to form larger public areas."

Next is Protech's favorite by Zaha Hadid, which the architect describes as, "a city compressed into a large building."

Last is the submission of New York's Hariri & Hariri, featuring 11 towers.

[Google Earth link]

St. Ignatius

St. Ignatius

St. Ignatius in Seattle, Washington by Steven Holl Architects, 1997.

The second Steven Holl building to be featured on this web page, the Chapel of St. Ignatius, on the campus of the Seattle University in Washington, differs in many ways from his Storefront for Art and Architecture in New York City. While the latter is clearly a product of the congested urban condition, the chapel is a free-standing sculptural object, even utilizing an adjacent man-made pond for effect. Like much of Holl's work the project began with a concept that later dictated the form and tectonic nature of the completed work. The architect concentrated on the importance of light in religious architecture and developed the idea of multiple light cones, bringing light into the interior during the day and glowing as a beacon to the community outside. The building is significant in heralding a new phase in Holl's career. While still focusing on creating space through detailing, proportion, and the manipulation of light, now Holl is expressing more sculptural tendencies, evident in his most famous recent work: the Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art in Helsinki, Finland.

The different "lights" correspond to parts of the church program, relating to the Jesuit Catholic worship: 1. Procession natural light, 2. Narthex natural light, 3. Nave yellow field with blue lens in the east and the opposite in the west, 4. Blessed Sacrament orange field with purple lens, 5. Choir green field with red lens, 6. Reconciliation Chapel purple field with orange lens, and 7. Bell Tower and pond projecting, reflecting natural light. As sunlight is brought into the interior primarily from the roof, space is shaped by both light and the changing topography of the ceiling. Although this is reminiscent of Modernist principles of design, the different ways of filtering and reflecting light among sculptural "bottles" gives the interior the spiritual quality the building deserves.

Of course, this description relates the building directly to Le Corbusier's chapel at Ronchamp, where stained glass and light reflected from colored surfaces illuminated the otherwise cave-like interior. And while Holl has a unique design process (enough that his buildings are instantly recognizable) and this chapel is a culmination of his working with light and materials on previous projects, this influence is most evidently worn on his sleeve. But the differences lie in the materiality of each structure: Le Corbusier's chapel uses rough concrete to achieve a primitive quality while Holl's means are more eclectic: precast concrete panels stained Roman ochre for the exterior, cedar and bronze in the entry, and wood flooring with plastered ceilings and walls in the rest of the chapel.

Steven Holl's consistent body of work, experimenting with light, materials and their relation to/creation of space, has earned him larger and more noticeable commissions. With these recent projects he has now experimented with form, though restrained through his analytical and mathematical design process, such as his reliance on the golden section for proportions. Not to dismiss his recent work as lacking, though, for works like this chapel and the museum in Finland exude a maturity born from strong architectural principles that he has carried from the Storefront through to today.

Storefront for Art and Architecture

Storefront for Art and Architecture

Storefront for Art and Architecture in New York, NY by Steven Holl and Vito Acconci, 1993.

Opened in 1993, the facade renovation for the Storefront for Art and Architecture was constructed on a budget of only $45,000. Architect Steven Holl and artist Vito Acconci's concept for the project of inside becoming outside is achieved by composing the facade with hinged panels. Each panel's unique shape, relationship to other panels, and open or closed condition creates, when combined with environmental conditions, a different facade each day. The design takes its concept and finds a clear solution within a small budget, but the project is also indicative of much of Holl's work in its focus on creating space through detailing, proportion, and the manipulation of light.

Pie-shaped in plan, the design opens to the street on one facade; the other wall is part of the building the Storefront is encased in. The long, solid wall is treated as gallery space, while the "fat" part of the plan is used for an office and storage. The narrow space of the gallery forces the visitor to confront the works presented. It is possible to glimpse what is on display through the exterior panels, but when inside one is caught in an ever contracting space.

Experiencing the space it is easy to see why many artists and architects have decided to create installations specific to the Storefront. Being there it is difficult to decide between paying attention to the work displayed or the space and the panels in their seemingly random juxtaposition. This randomness is anything but random though, in Holl's utilization of the golden section and other Renaissance-era rules of proportion. Although Holl's use of these rules does not contain the same meaning as when they originated, he carries a belief in the ability to fine-tune a design using these same rules, which many contemporary architects have abandoned.

The total perception of architectural spaces depends as much on the material and detail of the haptick realm as the taste of a meal depends on the flavors of authentic ingredients.   -Steven Holl

Although constructed on a minimal budget the Storefront contains a level of detail not found in much construction of equal cost. The exterior panels are a supraboard face with metal reveals, and the gallery space is white gypsum board. Inside the remnants of the structure's old uses are found in the columns, floor and ceiling. Whether for budgetary reasons or effect, the decision creates a strong contrast between old and new, but also gives a hint of inspiration (for example the screw-heads of the exterior panels echo the bolts on the interior columns).

The most dramatic effect of the design is the relationship between the interior space and the street outside, of which light plays a great role. The different configurations of panels, coupled with the ever-changing exterior weather conditions, creates unique vignettes of the city from the inside, while changing the framed glimpses into the gallery. The use of irregularly shaped openings has reappeared in much of Holl's work since, though not necessarily to as strong an effect. Perhaps here he was given the most freedom, able to create a solution that does not completely control the building's influence and relation to the environment: a kinetic architecture.

[Google Earth link]