Gallery: BLOCH BUILDING by Steven Holl


Architect Steven Holl is no stranger to remarkably lit gallery spaces, and his latest addition to the Nelson Atkins Museum in Kansas City, Missouri is a notable display of his talents in using architectural daylighting to create stunning interior spaces. Free to the public, the Bloch Building uses every facet of natural light to a variety of gallery spaces bringing perfectly balanced illumination to both a Noguchi Sculpture exhibit and another gallery with historic pictures that requires a low-light atmosphere. The light in the Bloch building, whose walls consist of large amounts of translucent glass, have been perfectly calibrated along with the use of fluorescents to account for the varying luminosity from season to season, and even from day to night. We were lucky enough to get a private viewing of the museum prior to its June opening to the public.

The outside appearance of the Bloch Building does not prepare you for the space you experience once inside. The large volumes of the building pierce the landscape of the Country Club Plaza district, following the line of the hillside like a little child whose full hands couldn’t carry their set of building blocks, dropping a few along the way. In the interior, visitors will have a hard time figuring out which glowing box they are in, with the differing grade changes and curved coves weaving through gallery spaces.

Fluttering T walls, conceived by Steven Holl Architects are dually functional, serving as the main structural thrust for each illuminated block, while also deflecting the natural light downwards into the interior spaces. Steven Holl Architect’s senior partner worked closely with museum hired Richard Renfro, of Renfro Design Group (light specialists) making sure the light levels in each gallery space (and even the underground parking garage) were calculated to the recommended levels to best display the art while preserving it. Even with the overcast winter sky during our tour, the spaces were entirely lit through the day by natural light. It almost excuses the fact that the museum is illuminated like lanterns during the night, making the surrounding sculpture park equally as enjoyable any time of day. Almost…

+ Steven Holl Architects

+ Nelson Atkins Museum


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  1. Patti Bussett June 8, 2007 at 10:41 pm

    I, too, am a life long resident of this odd mix of town and metropolis, and grew up playing at the feet of the now-famous Quan Yin statue which resides in the most venerable of all our lovely galleries in this space. My mother was in the first child’s art class in the Nelson, in the 1930’s. I feel deeply, inexorably connected to this space, both the old and the new, and its contents. I too was mortified by the placement of Claes and Brujie Von Oldenburgs’ playful works on the venerable lawn. But Marc (and his wife, Elizabeth) Wilson (Museum Director) have had excellent instincts about when this institution has been in danger of fossilization. They and their board of Trustees have made the right choice of architect. I say this because this midwestern museum has -always- harbored a sense of majesty and eternity in its collections–the ancient Chinese scrolls and Buddhist sculpture, the great paintings of Europe, the particular contemporary leanings towards sculptors such as Henry Moore and Noguchi, whose work is both human and also containing a very timeless stillness–therefore, the choice of an architect who has bestowed upon us this incarnated light–light itself being the most timeless of elements (unless we face a nuclear war and are denied the sun for several years) was perfect. I just heard him speak at the opening this evening, and he spoke of holding ideals closely, and sacrificing the pedestrian for those ideals. I am content with these glowing boxes on the lawn. Very content. If anything, I believe the boxes do not take much risk at all–but I know they do. In these distracted modernist times, to be daringly classical is in itself a risk. P

  2. Mary Lou Clifton May 9, 2007 at 10:55 pm

    I am a resident of Kansas City, Missouri, educated, well-traveled, well-read. I resent the foisting of the shuttle-cocks on the lawn of the Nelson, hair curler columns on I-35-I-70 coming through the heart of the city and now this anomaly known as the Bloch Building. The magnificent Nelson-Atkins Museum deserves better than the shock value this effort delivers. The generosity of the Blochs to this city is legendary, and I’m certain many agree with the accolades for this building, but I feel like one of the minions viewing the Emperor’s new clothes.

  3. Bologna Pona May 1, 2007 at 10:11 pm

    I’m not so sure that it is “green” but the building is forward thinking with lighting. Which, in turn, will decrease energy consumption

  4. heri siswanto April 28, 2007 at 8:16 pm

    good looking but can someone tell me why i dont feel green there?

  5. Ben April 27, 2007 at 6:36 pm

    I too got a small tour of this building. Three things I liked (other than the obvious).

    1. Fantastic handrails!

    2. The “stich” track lighting (visible in the bottom picture), much less distracting than at other new buildings (MOMA, DeYoung).

    3. (the big one). The Nelson is forgoing admission fees, so you can enter and exit at any point in the museum– you can leave, walk on the green roof, and reenter at another point. This is FANTASTIC and entirely unprecedented.

  6. Richie April 26, 2007 at 10:21 am

    I’ve always felt that the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain was too much… as it seemed to really ‘try’ so very hard to ‘compete’ with the artwork that it was built to display. This building, in contrast, is very beautiful and truly a work of Art itself, as it’s both a building and an inhabitable sculpture… yet, it leaves the space required to allow the Art it displays to be the main focus. This is a great design. Congratulations to all. (Is it possible to dim the lights at night ? Are there provisions built into the design that would allow for additional lighting to be installed, if deemed necessary at some future time… without destroying the clean flowing lines of this design ?)

  7. Randall April 26, 2007 at 3:44 am

    One more reason to go visit KC. I can’t think of other reasons at the moment, but I’m sure I’ll be pleasantly surprised.

  8. Bryce April 25, 2007 at 8:19 pm

    As a long time Kansas City resident I’m looking forward to the opening of this space. Until then, I’ll just enjoy seeing it from the outside.

  9. Marc Fink April 25, 2007 at 12:24 pm

    The white vertical planks of custom LINIT channel glass comprise the lenses of Steven Holl’s Bloch Building at the Nelson-Atkins Museum. The LINIT brand of channel glass, manufactured by Lamberts in Germany, is imported to the USA by Bendheim Wall Systems. With over 100,000 square feet of LINIT channel glass, the Bloch Building is easily the largest channel glass project in the country. LINIT channel glass is also a key design element on Steven Holl’s 2007 AIA New York Chapter Honor Award winning Central Section of Higgins Hall at Pratt Institute and new Swiss Embassy residence.. Why is LINIT channel glass installed on this stellar projects? No other channel glass source gives as much critical support to the architect and valuable assistance to the glazier as Bendheim Wall Systems does. To use LINIT channel glass to enhance your distinctive designs, call me at 800-221-7379 X 223 or email me at Thank you.

  10. Tyler April 25, 2007 at 11:08 am

    This is wonderful! This serves of a perfect example of the ability to create unique interior spaces without compromising the clean feeling of natural light. Also the contrast of the interior and exterior spaces is brilliant. Good stuff. We need more of this!

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