Steven Holl : NYU Department of Philosophy


Those of us from the Bean know Steven Holl‘s academic work all too well, what with all the coverage his concrete ‘sponge’ [read : Simmon’s Hall] got in both the local and national media – and then ensuing debate over the building’s design.

In a more recent project, which just opened at the start of this school year, Holl investigates porosity yet again – but this time within a renovation/restoration project for NYU‘s Philosophy Department. Long story short? The concept is much iller as an insertion into a pre-existing structure – just look at the photos of the staircase to follow…thing is SIIICK.


As I’ve already said, this time around Holl experimented with the insertion of a ‘porous’ stair into an existing 1890 building at 3-5 Washington Place. Leaving the historic exterior untouched, Holl’s aim was to give the Department of Philosophy a ‘luminous image’ with the new interiors – including faculty and graduate student offices, seminar rooms, a periodicals library & lounge and a ground floor 120-seat cork auditorium.


In terms of the overall interior – those familiar with Holl’s work will recognize the design concepts being employed. In particular, doors become swinging and sliding walls – opening spaces to one another and creating new spaces, as opposed to simply creating a portal from one room to another. In addition – the upper level floors, containing the faculty offices and seminar rooms, have been designed in different shades and textures of black & white inspired by Ludwig Wittgenstein’s book “Remarks on Color”. And, in true Steven Holl fashion, even the furniture and hardware – down to coat hooks and door handles – were designed by the architect. Ah – to be a ‘starchitect’ and get hired by a university…


That staircase I keep mentioning is the real conceptual move – ‘a concept of the phenomenal properties of light and materials’ – with the insertion of a new stairwell volume. Sketched as an amorphous flowing tube of light, and realized as something similar, yet more angular, the stairwell is basically a giant skylight/lightwell – bringing daylight down into the building, and using the lighting – along with a dynamic and interesting staircase – to connect all the different floors/programs/users within the building.




And as you can see – its pretty ill. The staircase is all white, reflecting all that natural light [and refracting it, in some place - check the rainbow effects] down into the building. It also changes direction at each level – making for a more dynamic experience while moving up and down the building, and [I would think] causing users to take notice of each individual level. The existing walls seem to have been left ‘as is’ [but painted white], adding to the feeling that the staircase has been pushed into an existing space – and the stairwell volume itself is punctured, both by the holes giving it the desired ‘porous’ feeling and by larger openings serving as windows into the various interior spaces.



About this collaboration with NYU, Steven Holl says: “University buildings need to focus as incubators for interaction between students and faculty. It was a pleasure working with this university that was willing to broaden its design approach by including our staircase that now functions as the backbone of the building.”

::All images copyright Andy Ryan. Watercolors courtesy of Steven Holl Architects::

::Ed. Note: Thanks to Frank Lentini for thinking of architecture.MNP when sending out this press release::

Posted: October 4th, 2007
at 10:29am by orangemenace

Categories: architecture,featured ninjas,interiors,photographie

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