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Steven Holl
INHABITAT INTERVIEW: 7 Questions with Architect Steven Holl

Steven Holl has risen to become one of the most celebrated and well-respected architects working today. His architectural work is widely recognized and covers extensive ground ranging from the museums, educational facilities, residences, retail design, office design, public utilities, and master planning. But unlike the indistinguishable corporate work or ego driven monstrosities that litter the physical and cultural landscape, each of Steven’s structures rises above any predictable style, and are instead inspired by a unique contextual awareness. His ability to masterfully blend space and light in subtle forms has turned him into a central figure in the discussion of contemporary sustainable design. It also comes as no surprise that his work has garnered him wide acclaim not only from critics, but most notably, from his contemporaries.
On this rare occasion, Steven was kind enough to sit down and answer a few of our questions regarding his style, green design, and even a little something about his childhood. Read ahead for our seven questions with Steven Holl.

Steven Holl's Bloch Building was completed over three years ago, but the beautiful extension to the Nelson-Atkins Muesum of Art in Kansas City continues to garner significant acclaim.
1. How would you describe your signature style? As we all know, we're in the era of the 'iconic building' and the 'starchitect'. However facile this might be, the designs of public institutions are often offered to the biggest names, and the most 'iconic' architects. How do you feel about this trend, and how do you work in a system like this and continue to create thoughtful, meaningful architecture, when so many developers are looking for 'the next Bilbao'?
Steven: I believe that architecture needs to be completely anchored in its program and site. Its meaning must be so deeply rooted in the conditions of its inception that it’s unfazed by fashion. My first book Anchoring describes the relation of a building to a site, to its culture and to its metaphysical origins. If architecture’s original concept can go deeper, rather than broader, it builds a meaning on the site. It fortifies a locus of thoughts and philosophical hopes, or even humor and stories, which are oblivious to whatever style it is.

The luminous energy-efficient modern art museum boasts a green roof garden and a beautiful translucent facade that floods the interior spaces with light throughout the day.
2. Are you concerned about environmental and social sustainability in your buildings? If so, what role does green building play into your work?
Steven: The 21st century presents us with one third of the earth already developed, much of it in sprawling waste. A fundamental change of attitude, a re-visioning of values must take place. We emphasize sustainable building and site development as fundamental to innovative and imaginative design.
In Shenzhen China, a city that went from 8,000 to a population of over 12 million, natural landscape has been rapidly obliterated. New strategies for cultivation of urban vegetation are crucial to maintain a balance of flora and fauna as well as natural aquifers and general climatic balance. Advanced structural technologies and construction techniques open up the potential for new flying architectures, horizontal skyscrapers and public function bridges developing new urban layers. Our multifunctional “horizontal skyscraper” in Shenzhen, China won the architectural competition due to the maximizing of public landscape while rising to the 35m height limit and maximizing distant ocean views from the living/working spaces. Due to sophisticated combinations of “cable-stay” bridge technology merged with a high strength concrete frame there are no trusses in this floating skyscraper. The lush tropical landscape below is be open to the public and will contain restaurants and cafés in vegetated mounds bracketed with pools and walkways.

The extension serves to compliment the existing buildings by bringing a modern green vision to the historic museum.

3. What do you feel is the greatest challenge when it comes to designing for environmental sustainability? Steven: The space, the geometry, the light of an architecture in great proportions must remain the core aim, while engineering aims for zero carbon, ultra-green architecture. But this balance between the poetry of architecture and its green engineering is crucial.

Designed for the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York, this insertion to the Higgins Hall is a modern masterpiece which sits amicably with the traditional brick aesthetic of the school. A two-throated skylight marks the top, striking dissonance and joining two types of light, and brick from the burned section has been recycled into a slumped brick and concrete base that form the entrance and a viewing terrace. Rising from the burnt brick is a concrete frame supported on six columns spanned with concrete and sheathed with an economical industrial material with translucent insulation able to create a translucent glow at night.
4. What is your ultimate goal when it comes to your work? What do you want to be remembered for?
Steven: I want to live by inspiration and concretize inspiration in space and light. Architecture can be a gift left for others to enjoy – architecture together with landscape can form a special reality – a special place, a place that is alive – inspires alive.
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