Environmental design and contemporary art go hand-in-hand in Steven Holl Architects’ recently completed The Markel Center, the home of the Institute for Contemporary Art (ICA) at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU). Located at the busiest intersection in Richmond, The Markel Center embodies VCU and the ICA’s commitment to sustainability with its LEED Gold-seeking design and energy-efficient technologies. Filled with natural light to reduce electricity demands, the museum draws energy from geothermal wells and features over 8,000 square feet of green roofs for extra insulation.


green roof The Markel Center by Steven Holl Architects

Richmond location Markel Center

Opened last month, VCU’s new Institute for Contemporary Art is free to the public and marks Richmond’s first art institution dedicated exclusively to exhibiting contemporary art. Sandwiched between VCU’s Monroe Park campus and the city’s art district, the ICA is a sculptural, 41,000-square-foot structure spread out across three floors and flooded with natural light from large glass walls, windows and skylights. The glass, which ranges in transparency from clear to opaque, filters out UV rays and, when backlit, gives the titanium-zinc-clad building a light, box-like appearance.

glass wall The Markel Center by Steven Holl Architects

Opaque glass and zinc exterior

The lobby, offices, cafe, bar, 240-seat auditorium, and concept shop, along with a 4,000-square-foot gallery, occupy the first floor and connect to the ICA’s central forum and outdoor garden, dubbed the “Thinking Field.” The second floor houses two forking galleries, an interactive “learning lab,” and a publicly accessible landscaped terrace. The top floor features a gallery with 33-foot-tall walls in addition to administrative suites and the boardroom.

forking galleries The Markel Center by Steven Holl Architects

forking galleries at ICA

“We designed the ICA to be a flexible, forward-looking instrument that will both illuminate and serve as a catalyst for the transformative possibilities of contemporary art,” said architect Steven Holl. “Like many contemporary artists working today, the ICA’s design does not draw distinctions between the visual and performing arts. The fluidity of the design allows for experimentation and will encourage new ways to display and present art that will capitalize on the ingenuity and creativity apparent throughout the VCU campus.”

gallery space The Markel Center by Steven Holl Architects

light-filled lobby The Markel Center by Steven Holl Architects

Related: Steven Holl Architects unveils designs for geothermal-powered Angers Collectors Museum

Clad in 100% recyclable titanium-zinc exterior paneling, the LEED Gold-seeking building draws energy from 43 geothermal wells for its radiant floor system. Native plants are used in the permeable landscape design as well as on the green roofs that cover three of the four gallery roofs. Nearly a third of materials used during construction were recyclable and nearly a quarter of the materials were regionally sourced.

+ Steven Holl Architects

Images by Iwan Baan