Gilbane Building Company Brings the Institute for Contemporary Art at VCU to Reality
The Institute for Contemporary Art at VCU Creates Connection Space for Artists, Students and Community
On April 21st, the Institute for Contemporary Art at Virginia Commonwealth University (ICA at VCU) held an opening block party to celebrate its grand opening. Thousands of people came to view the city’s bold new arts institution. No surprise as the ICA at VCU has sparked interest around the country and even internationally. That interest has sprung from the design of the institution as well as the art within.
VCU's art and design program is ranked number one among public universities according to U.S. News & World Report. While student work has been shown in the Anderson Gallery for decades, the university had no place for professional artists to show their work. In the early 2000s, a group of university administrators and local arts supporters recognized this need, and began to plan for a new facility.
An architect was selected, and a site was chosen. Progress, however, halted and the project was tabled after the site was changed, and the original architect passed away. The project was reincarnated seven years ago after a donor invested a substantial amount in the project, inspiring a fundraising campaign. When it came to the design, more than 60 architects responded to the RFP and submitted proposals. Selecting the winning proposal was straightforward as it was a unanimous decision. "Steven Holl came personally to present his design. Between his presentation and the fact he already had designed a number of museums, he quickly rose to the top," says Joe Seipel, ICA at VCU’s Interim Director and the Dean Emeritus of the VCU school of the arts.
Linking the Communities
The goal of the ICA at VCU is bold but simple: to be a world class contemporary art institution. The ICA at VCU will connect VCU students with professional art and artists through learning opportunities ranging from workshops and lectures to the opportunity to serve as gallery attendants, interns, and graduate assistants. The state of the art auditorium is ideally suited for lectures and presentation of films. Yet, the ICA at VCU is also for the public, which is evident by its location and design. Located at the busiest and most prominent intersection in Richmond (60,000 cars go by daily), the ICA at VCU faces the city as well as the campus. Seipel says of the location, "This was purposely done. It's very important to us that we become a pivotal part of the Richmond community and the university community."
While the reasoning behind the location of the ICA at VCU is evident, construction in such an area presented a challenge. Gilbane Building Company, headquartered in Providence, Rhode Island, served as the general contractor on the project. A globally integrated construction and facility management services firm, Gilbane is a privately held, family-owned company. John Taylor, Vice President at Gilbane, says of the location, "It's a postage stamp lot because the building touches the property line in five different locations. It's a very congested site and challenging due to its prominent location."
Managing the work site was made more challenging due to the complex design. This required multiple subtrades to be part of the process. Key contractors included Cleveland Cement, Crystal Steel, National Enclosure Company, Zahner, Kalkreuth, M&E, Blair Dumond, Brad Leigh Applicators, Capitol Interiors, E. Caligari and more. In order to coordinate the trades in the tight space, Gilbane used BIM (building information modeling). "BIM married our schedule and the model and put it into animation," says Taylor.
Even more essential, BIM served as a timescale computer model and sequenced how things should play out. It provided a 3-D model that helped the construction team visualize the structure. The job was so complex that communication and clarification were paramount. Trades would check out the BIM to clarify the sequencing. Taylor says, "BIM really helped and was the glue that kept everything together."
Building of the 41,000 square feet ICA at VCU was done on a scaffolding system. Supported by multiple cantilevers, the temporary shoring system was part of a complex set of bracing methods designed to support lateral construction loads while the building was in its final state. The structure includes multiple components such as precast, reinforced concrete, structural steel elements, recast plank, and topping slab that holds it all together.
The ICA at VCU is double walled with illuminated glass walls. The clear- and translucent-glass walls will allow natural light into the building during the day, and in the evening, it will radiate light, revealing the activities within. There are compound curved exterior walls sheathed in pre-weathered satin finished zinc panels. Gardens cover 8,000 square feet of the building’s roof and will absorb storm water and maximize insulation. According to Drew Micco, a Senior Project Manager at Gilbane, the ICA at VCU offers a unique solution with its environmental wall that will evacuate smoke in the case of a fire.
The unique features of the ICA at VCU do not end with its sustainable design. The plaza, or “Thinking Field” adjacent to the building’s campus entrance features a reflecting pool. Holl has included pools in several of his buildings, and Seipel believes it adds to the visual nature of the building. The third floor of the ICA at VCU includes a 33-foot-tall gallery that will provide exhibition space for the artists. Seipel describes the space as interesting, unique, and comprehensive. Assistant Vice President for facilities at VCU, Rich Sliwoski noted the torsional feature of the interior of the third floor gallery. "The floor is covered with plaster which makes for a seamless feel. The space has great, cathedral like acoustics," says Sliwoski. Additional interior finishes include exposed concrete plank ceilings and concrete floors as well as curved walls and ceiling in the forum.
Time for Adjustment
Construction of the ICA at VCU began in July of 2014, and the institute was originally slated to be opened in October of 2017. While the $41 million facility was indeed complete, there was an issue. "We needed time to calibrate and maintain the interior temperature of the building where it needed to be to protect the art," says Sliwoski. Taylor adds that concrete is unforgiving in this respect. So, the opening was delayed until the spring, and the building was allowed to adjust.
The challenge of keeping the ICA at VCU at the proper temperature was amplified by its nontraditional features. The building includes 43 geothermal wells that reach 600-foot depths and heat and cool the building. In addition, the glass walls are designed to exhaust heat in the summer and harness it in the winter. While these aspects, along with the green roof, allow the ICA at VCU to seek LEED Gold certification, they also complicate temperature control.
VCU has grand plans for the ICA at VCU. The ICA is expected to draw visitors from all over the world and will offer a fresh slate of changing exhibitions, experimental performances, films, and programs. The grand plan began with a grand structure. Gilbane has managed to bring Steven Holl's vision to life, and VCU students, the surrounding Richmond population, and art lovers beyond are reaping the benefits.