Getting creative with concrete
The new Visual Arts Building at the University of Iowa was designed to replace the original 1930s building that was severely damaged by floods in 2008.
The new facility provides studio space for ceramics, sculpture, metal work, photography, print-making, and 3D multimedia, as well as graduate student studios, faculty and staff offices, and gallery space.
BuroHappold provided structural engineering for this ambitious building. As digital techniques have forged new relationships across the arts, the architect has placed interconnectivity and crossover at the heart of the design. The main challenge came in realizing the architect’s aim to construct the Visual Arts Building purely using concrete.
Our engineers understood that it would be impossible for solid concrete slabs to span the distances required to create the expansive interior spaces, as their sheer weight would cause them to bow at the center.
Derrick Roorda, Regional Discipline Leader, Structures
The internal spaces within the building were designed to reflect the need for connectivity between students, with floors shaped to encourage meeting and discussion. Seven vertical cutouts, encased in glass to further promote transparency between students and staff, provide visual links between the building’s four levels.
In response to the architect’s challenge to use concrete as the sole material in the structure, we produced a complex model of the building that allowed us to analyze the various loads that would be imposed on it. Our engineers proposed the use of a ‘bubble’ or void slab deck, which incorporates plastic discs within voids in the concrete slab that reduce its weight without compromising its overall strength.
We were able to demonstrate to the architect and our client that this was the best way to meet both the strength and aesthetic criteria required.
Jamie Chung, Associate
By applying our expertise and experience to devise a number of innovative solutions in response to the unique situations posed by this project, BuroHappold played an intrinsic part in realizing an iconic new Visual Arts Building for the University of Iowa.
Services and approach
When we integrate our specialist teams around an approach, the benefits to the client multiply