Institute for Contemporary Art at VCU – Steven Holl Architects
The Institute for Contemporary Art (ICA) is an art gallery, part of the Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) campus in Richmond, VA, housed in an iconic building designed by acclaimed NY-based architect Steven Holl.
The origins of the ICA trace back to 1931 when the VCU School of the Arts opened the Anderson Gallery, the first contemporary art exhibition venue in Richmond.
In 2012, the institution started an ambitious project aimed to create a new gallery designed by Steven Holl Architects. The new facility opened to the public on April 21, 2018.
While the Anderson Gallery also featured works from its 31,000-piece permanent collection of art, the new ICA is a non-collecting institution aimed to promote and disseminate contemporary art through special exhibitions, live performances, educational programs, and cultural events. The Anderson Gallery’s collection is now accessible for study at VCU’s James Branch Cabell Library.
Institute for Contemporary Art, Richmond, VA; view from north-east; photo © Iwan Baan
The 41,000-foot building designed by Steven Holl is located on the southern edge of the VCU campus, at the intersection of Broad and Belvidere Streets, and forms a sort of gateway between the city and the University premises.
The ICA consists of seven boxes, stacked on three levels, which contain a large lobby (named the Forum), four flexible exhibition galleries of different shape and size, a 247-seat tiered theater and conference room, administrative offices, a cafe and a museum store; a fourth underground level accommodates storage spaces and preparation rooms. These boxes slightly diverge from one another in a fork-like configuration; Holl conceived such shape, inspired by the “forking time” concept expressed by Jorge Luis Borges in the short story “The Garden of Forking Paths”, to symbolize the multi-faceted nature of contemporary art.
“The idea of “forking time” suggests that in the world of contemporary art there are many parallel times” (Steven Holl)
The building is clad with gray titanium-zinc sheets, and glass panels either clear or translucent; such materials – together with the fluid arrangement of volumes and the subtly torsion of the building’s tower (which contains the museum’s largest gallery) – make the ICA a very dynamic piece of architecture, whose appearance changes dramatically depending on the time of day and the viewer’s position.
The building also features cutting-edge environmental-friendly solutions, including green roofs planted with local shrubs and grasses, geothermal heating and cooling, and a broad use of natural lighting.
Steven Holl Architects, a conceptual sketch of the ICA
Program of events and activities
Spanning a broad range of contemporary cultural forms of expression and languages – including visual arts, dance, music, and cinema – the multidisciplinary program of events and activities of ICA features temporary exhibitions, guided tours, talks, lectures, dance performances, concerts, and special events.
Fully accessible to physically-impaired people, the ICA building also contains education spaces, workshops, a shop, and a cafe opening onto a nice sculpture garden.
Institute for Contemporary Art, Richmond, VA; exterior views; photos © Iwan Baan
ICA; site plan, and cross-section; images courtesy of Steven Holl Architects
Institute for Contemporary Art, Richmond, VA; the lobby (the Forum); photo © Iwan Baan
Views of the galleries; photos © Iwan Baan
The auditorium – performance space; photo © Iwan Baan
The cafe; photo © Iwan Baan
Cover image: Institute for Contemporary Art, Richmond, VA; view from the north-west; photo © Iwan Baan
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