Collaboration and civic engagement are increasingly critical to the success of modern music education. The Voxman Music Building optimizes social interaction with the composition of public and programmed spaces. High-performance acoustic environments leverage bespoke systems to enhance flexibility and adapt to evolving pedagogy. Natural light fills almost every room in the building, encouraging extended use and intellectual immersion. Supporting spaces—practice studios, faculty studios, administrative offices, rehearsal spaces, recording studios, classrooms, and library—make up over 200 additional programmed spaces that are integrated into the design to create a uniquely comprehensive modern educational facility.
General and technical report
When the Iowa River flooded in 2008, the University of Iowa sustained the worst natural disaster in its history, and the existing Voxman Music Building was damaged beyond repair. The School of Music scattered across the campus to multiple buildings and faced the challenge of replacing its custom facilities: acoustically appropriate and isolated practice, rehearsal, and performance spaces. With its new home located in Iowa City’s urban core, the 107-year old program is being reinvigorated by the exchange of academic and city life—sharing musical discovery with the public, catalyzing an arts district, and bringing a civic presence to the School of Music.
Embracing a collaborative and exploratory student-driven model of education, the new six-story, 186,000-square-foot building shares musical discovery with the community through its composition of spaces and transparent expression at a key downtown intersection. The program comprises a 700-seat concert hall, 200-seat recital hall, organ performance hall, music library, rehearsal rooms, practice rooms, classrooms, faculty studios and offices all linked by a series of vertically connected community spaces. Conceptually, the pattern of streets and open spaces in this mixed-use district extends directly into the multi-level interior spaces to establish a sense of vertical urban vitality.
The multi-story glazed corner entry reinforces the merger of campus and city, with the two primary performance venues marking their presence on each of the main facades at the second level. The concert hall cantilevers over the Burlington Street sidewalk and the below-grade student commons, while the recital hall protrudes from the building edge on Clinton Street, wrapped in a shingled-glass wall system that extends over the sidewalk below.
Vertically stacking acoustically sensitive spaces on a compact urban site presented a significant technical challenge. In response, each space is a discrete, acoustically isolated object with a sinuous, public space flowing between. These naturally lit circulation volumes interlink to form civic gathering areas, a student commons, a performance and rehearsal lobby, and three-story atrium. A fourth-floor terrace, nestled between the faculty offices, provides a gathering space that frames views to the city, historic courthouse, and countryside beyond.
“Concert halls are to music what laboratories are to science,” says UI’s School of Music Director, David Gier. Accordingly, every performance and rehearsal space is acoustically tuned and tunable. With the ability to adapt to a wide range of musical genres—from voice to percussion to classical to jazz—the building is designed for pedagogical flexibility, serendipitous collaboration, and impromptu performances.
The Concert Hall inspires musical discovery with a traditional shoe-box arrangement framing an advanced theatroacoustic ceiling system. This high-performance digital solution unifies acoustics, lighting, and life-safety requirements in a multi-functional architectural expression. The intricately sculpted, suspended ceiling is assembled out of 946 unique, folded-aluminum composite modules digitally fabricated directly from the architect’s parametric model. Acoustic ray-tracing simulations performed directly in the architect’s 3D model informed the reflector’s curvilinear form, working iteratively with the acoustician to determine the optimal configuration of reflection and absorption of sound throughout the space.
The Recital Hall hosts solo and ensemble performances that are the pinnacle of a student’s educational experience. The design employs saturated color, playful texture, and natural light to create a space of distinction. The room is wrapped on three sides with red wood paneling and bespoke cast gypsum panels, designed to diffuse sound for optimal acoustic performance. On its fourth side, a full-height glass wall ushers in daylight and visually unites performances with urban experiences. In the three major rehearsal spaces, high ceilings are filled with swarms of colored, kite-like reflectors that vary between solid and perforated to animate acoustical and lighting effects.
The building is unique in its use of natural light and visual connections to the surrounding neighborhood, extending beyond the public spaces to include the studios, rehearsal rooms, and performance spaces. The need for acoustic isolation in these rooms typically prevents the use of glass for views and daylighting, so inventive technical solutions were developed to meet acoustic criteria without diminishing transparency and energy performance.
The building’s exterior composition and texture reinforces its civic prominence. A shimmering white terra-cotta panel façade system unifies the primary program elements, and frames the public spaces and recital hall. The terra-cotta system serves as a rain-screen for a high-performance wall assembly, maximizing energy performance through minimal thermal transfer and integrated shading elements that protect the large vertical glass openings. The multi-story glass wall system wraps the public spaces from north to south, culminating in the shingled glass condition that frames the deep red recital hall.
Since 1979, Seattle-based LMN Architects has been dedicated to the planning and design of significant public and private facilities, including convention centers, cultural arts venues, education facilities, transit facilities, mixed-use developments and other urban environments that celebrate and enrich communities. The firm’s work is widely regarded for enriching civic life and strengthening cultural identity. The architectural expression of each project is uniquely characteristic of its purpose and place, yet all share a common approach to how they support community. Whether as part of a campus, city, neighborhood or workplace, LMN believes that people share an innate need to feel connected. Recipient of the 2016 American Institute of Architects National Architecture Firm Award, LMN has earned an international reputation for design excellence, sustainable solutions, practice innovation and successful delivery of complex projects.