Institute for Contemporary Art

New Institute for Contemporary Art at VCU will open next year




Institute for Contemporary Art
Photo © Charles Piper

Sited at the edge of the Virginia Commonwealth University campus in Richmond, Virginia, the new Institute for Contemporary Art will link the University with the surrounding community. On the busiest intersection of Richmond at Broad and Belvidere Streets, the building will form a gateway to the University with an inviting sense of openness. The main entrance is formed by an intersection of the performance space and forum, adding a vertical “Z” component to the “X-Y” movement of the intersection.

Institute for Contemporary Art
Photo © Charles Piper

The torsion of these intersecting bodies is joined by a “plane of the present” to the galleries in “forking time.” The idea of “forking time” suggests that in the world of contemporary art there are many parallel times. The notion of one ongoing time and its “grand narrative” of history is questioned. The new Institute for Contemporary Art is organized in four galleries, each with a different character.

Institute for Contemporary Art
Image © Steven Holl Architects

Flexibility allows for four separate exhibitions, one continuous exhibition, or combinations. Galleries can be closed for installations without affecting the circulation to the others. One can begin the sequence through the four galleries by taking the oversized elevator to the top and circling down, or by beginning at the lower gallery of the forum and moving up.

Institute for Contemporary Art
Image © Steven Holl Architects

Exposed concrete beams and planks in the galleries complement the concrete floors. As flexible spaces, the galleries can accept suspended art or projects anchored to the floor slab. Vertical movement along the “plane of the present” links the galleries, the performance space, sculpture garden, and forum. Along this architectural promenade, the integration of all the building elements can be experienced in changing views.

Institute for Contemporary Art
Image © Steven Holl Architects

The 41,000 sq ft building has a double front: one side opens from the city, the other from the sculpture garden to the forum, linking city and campus. On the ground level, the café opens directly onto the sculpture garden, as does the ground level gallery. Pivot doors allow opening events to spill out into the garden. Paved in bluestone gravel, the garden is planted with gingko trees.

Institute for Contemporary Art
Image © Steven Holl Architects

A large reflecting pond of recycled water shapes the sense of this garden as a “thinking field.” The building is an experience of movement in time around the exterior as well as the interior. Approaching on foot from the west (from the University), the building unfolds in the parallax of changing perspectives. As you walk, the crunch of gravel under your feet is complemented by a view that gradually opens to reveal the lobby.

Institute for Contemporary Art
Image © Steven Holl Architects

If you arrive by car from the north, east, or south, the double vertical geometry in torsion marks a gateway presence, which changes shape as the car passes by. At night glowing planes of obscure glass activate the exterior. Video projections may appear on these obscure glass walls, animating the garden with art. The flexible performance space has 247 seats and a sprung floor for dance performances. The rear stage wall opens to allow the loading dock to double function as a deeper back stage.

Institute for Contemporary Art
Image © Steven Holl Architects

The concrete floors and exposed concrete beams of the building are complemented by the greenish-grey skin (Rheinzink). The garden roofs include a sculpture terrace on the second level. The building is heated and cooled with geothermal wells. In developing the garden, we envision collaboration with artists for semi-permanent works.

Institute for Contemporary Art
Watercolor © Steven Holl Architects

The Institute for Contemporary Art will be a new gateway and catalyst, linking the University and the city of Richmond. With its inviting double-fronted forum opening to a serene sculpture garden, it will provide spatial energy for the most important cutting-edge contemporary art exhibits. Propelled by VCU’s top-ranked School of the Arts, the ICA’s architecture is an instrument for exhibitions, film screenings, public lectures, performances, symposia, and community events, engaging the University, the city, and beyond. Source by Steven Holl Architects.

Institute for Contemporary Art
Watercolor © Steven Holl Architects
  • Location: Richmond, VA, United States
  • Architect: Steven Holl Architects
  • Design Architect: Steven Holl
  • Senior Partner In Charge: Chris McVoy
  • Project Architects: Dominik Sigg, Dimitra Tsachrelia
  • Project Team: Garrick Ambrose, Rychiee Espinosa, Scott Fredricks, Gary He, Martin Kropac, JongSeo Lee, Yasmin Vobis, Christina Yessios
  • Associate Architects: BCWH Architects
  • Associate Partner In Charge: Charles Piper
  • Associate Project Manager: Bo Fairlamb
  • Associate Project Architect: Jason Dufilho
  • Structural Engineer: Robert Silman Associates
  • Mechanical Engineer: Arup, OLDS
  • Landscape Consultant: Michael Boucher Landscape Architecture
  • Lighting Consultant: L’Observatoire International
  • Audio/Visual Consultant: Convergent Technologies Design Group, Inc.
  • Theater Technical Consultant: Theatre Projects Consultants
  • Building Area (square): 41000sf/12497sm
  • Year: 2017
  • Photographs: Charles Piper, Courtesy of Steven Holl Architects
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