"The soul has greater need of the ideal than of the real." Thoughtful words inscribed in the limestone facade of the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Missouri. The author, Victor Hugo, French playwright, novelist, essayist. The reader, Steven Holl of Steven Holl architects.
It is with this sentiment that Holl, a highly-respected architect from Bremerton Washington, engaged the process for what would in the end be the finest, seamless addition to an elite center of art.
Steven Holl, is an architect difficult to define. To reduce his work to a style or its influence to a time period would be flirting with simple-mindedness. Instead, the casual and the informed observer must reach for the most blatant of contradictions. Holl may be best described as spontaneously-static, or maybe even a feeling-pragmatist.
He is an architect in total command of the inherent metrics required to create elite, permanent structures. Yet, he balances the technical envelope so well he seems to ignore it. His skyline creations seem to join hands with the clouds rather than compete against them. Much anticipated is the High Line Hybrid Tower connected to the High Line Park in New York City.
This project will be Holl’s first large-scale project in New York. The tower modern design will, in Holls words, “enable interaction with the public sphere vertically as well as street level.” His design philosophy is to create what nature would create on its own if given a protractor and pencil.
As with many architects, the most covert design element is patience. Such was the case while penciling one of the 650 drafts in preparation for the Atkins Block design competition. One of the static requirements distributed among the invited architectural firms was that the addition would face north. Holl, working in conjunction with his partner Chris McVoy, felt that the best solution was to instead create a structure that would fuse the facade with the landscape and move the structure eastward. Holl recalls his anxiety going into the committee meeting to present this new idea. At risk were the many months and hours spent on a drawing that fundamentally violated the basic design requirement.
I apologize for breaking the rules” Holl’s opening statement would read. With regret out of the way, he pushed forward uncovering what strengths were submerged in the surrounding natural landscape, and how these strengths should be highlighted. The result was a unanimous vote to approve his design.
It is this style of people management that allows Holl to succeed domestically as well as internationally. His most ambitious project to date is in Beijing China where he has opened a new office. The spider like project is geo-thermally heated and cooled with 660 geo-thermal wells, 8 towers standing 22 stories tall, and 750 apartments. The towers are connected with bridges with pools inside of them. In brief, the structures combine high-end apartment residences with connecting, highway-like bridges leading to market places, and other centers of international commerce.
Holls’ success doesn’t come without controversy as seen in his infamous MIT Simmons dormitory design completed in 2002. Simmons Hall was in many ways made to be difficult. The conflict of hiring a creative architect to build a student residence has its inherent challenges. Add to that, a campus light on artistic tendencies and the conflicts become so obvious they go unnoticed. Simmons Hall is known infamously as the sponge.
The dorm resembles an overused kitchen-cleaning pad, the type no one seems to know when to throw away. There are long tales of irrational decisions made while designing Simmons. It is widely rumored that the inspiration for the hall came about while Holl was in the bathtub washing with a sponge. To this day, many student critics continue to re-fuel the bathtub metaphor and how it is indicative of the entire dormitory debacle.
In all, his fans seem to outnumber his critics. His awards include: The Sustainable Design Award for Linked Hybrid, RIBA International Award (UK) for The New Residence at The Swiss Embassy, or the AIA/COTE Top Ten Green Project Award for the Whitney Water Purification Facility and Park.