Steven Holl’s Architectural Archive preserves his firm’s designs and the landscape

Steven Holl’s Architectural Archive preserves his firm’s designs and the landscape

Steven Holl can often be found reading poetry and painting watercolors in a small cabin overlooking lotus flowers by a lake in Rhinebeck, New York. The cabin sits on a 28-acre reserve that Holl purchased in 2014 and which now houses Holl’s full-time office and ‘T’ Space, a non-profit arts organization featuring creative exhibits, environmental installations and architectural residences. Winding around several tall trees and connecting via a passageway to another existing cabin from 1959, the Steven Myron Holl Foundation Architectural Archives and Research Librarybuilt in 2019, is the latest building to be carefully set into the lush landscape.

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Holl covered the exterior surface of the 2,700 square foot archive with an aluminum cladding with narrow wavy bands that reflect light and diffuse shadows as the structure weaves its way through the landscape. It is heated and cooled by a 500 foot deep geothermal well, which produces radiant floor heating while consuming almost no energy. A green roof was installed in May. Local zoning allows Holl to expand the lodge up to 8,000 square feet, so the archive is expected to diversify further as its collection grows.

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In 2014, architect Steven Holl and his Steven Myron Holl Foundation purchased a 28-acre reserve that now houses Holl’s office as well as ‘T’ Space, a non-profit arts organization featuring exhibitions, installations and residences.. Image © Paul Warchol

The library contains 3,700 published volumes that have influenced Holl since the start of his career, as well as rows of sketchbooks containing 20,000 watercolor drawings and works of art by architects like Louis Kahn, Zaha Hadid and Lebbeus Woods, and artists like Richard Tuttle and Kiki Smith. Tall white aluminum shelves display architectural models (1,200 in total) dating back to 1977.

“People are thrilled to see the creativity of the models and many iterations of a concept displayed in the archive,” said Susan Wides, curator and director of ‘T’ Space. “It’s really a source of inspiration for artists and the general public. They leave with a broader vision of the art of architecture.

It is a special place for architectural connoisseurs and the public to better appreciate Holl’s iterative process and the influence of a variety of aesthetic media on his designs. It is also a green site that favors local ecology. “I left all the trees. I’ve never cut down a tree,” says Holl. “The form of branching has to do in part with saving the trees.”

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The latest addition to Holl’s sprawling property is the foundation’s architectural archive and research library, which was built and opened in 2019 and is designed using a special aluminum cladding that interacts with light natural to the site. Image © Paul Warchol
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The Architectural Archive and Research Library includes more than 3,700 volumes, 1,200 architectural models and sketchbooks containing nearly 20,000 watercolor drawings and works of art by Holl as well as architects such as Louis Kahn and Zaha Hadid.. Image © Paul Warchol

Inside, unfinished birch plywood forms an inner shell that encloses a super-insulated wood frame. The walls are pierced with high-tech insulating glass skylights and eye-level openings that open up to the wilderness.

“It’s not like when you’re in an urban situation, where you can’t really experiment with sunlight like you can here in a landscape,” says Holl. “We do [the residents] work in models and natural light. This is really important today because students are completely polluted by the internet.

After moving the models to the library before the pandemic hit, the team has been curating the archive ever since. “It gave this space momentum,” says Dimitra Tsachrelia, wife of Holl and partner at the firm. She was instrumental in overseeing the ‘T’ space, she notes: “The models had just arrived in December in boxes, and because we were here, that prompted bringing the books and all the watercolors.”

Holl also began running his office in Rhinebeck full-time, while maintaining offices in the Chelsea neighborhood of New York and Beijing. He doesn’t want to go back. “I really like it, and everything connected well with Zoom, so we’re moving on,” says Holl. “It’s a godsend to be able to go out all the time.”

This article has been originally published on Metropolis Magazine.

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