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David Chipperfield in Iowa

David Chipperfield

David Chipperfield in Iowa
By Raymund Ryan -

British architect David Chipperfield is known for his elegant, almost minimal, typically rectilinear compositions. In the middle of the continental United States, Iowa might be classified as a flat expanse of farmland lightly touched by the great American grid of north/south and east/west coordinates. Now Chipperfield has completed not only his first but his second freestanding building in the United States. And both are in Iowa.
Des Moines, Iowa’s capital, has the corporate towers one expects in a city of this importance. The new Central Library starts near the base of some high-rises, then stretches parallel to adjacent low-rise buildings and parking lots to point westward across a public park. “Parallel” is imprecise as the library - atypically for a Chipperfield design - is polygonal, aformal, perhaps even biomorphic.
Beneath a uniform flat roof, the walls of the library extend as a contiguous membrane of identical glass panels, taut and frameless. In daylight the building glows a metallic honey colour; at dusk, when illuminated from within, the interior life of the library is exposed to passers-by. These panels - a German system known as Okalux - comprise three layers of glass with a sheet of copper mesh between the outermost and middle layers. This metal filament deflects excess solar heat and glare. It also, of course, gives the institution a striking monolithic identity.
The unusual shape of the building is determined not only by contextual issues of adjacency and access but by an absolute iteration of the vertical Okalux module (1.2 x 4.0 metres high) about the entire perimeter. Adhering to this pragmatic rule, Chipperfield avoids the half-module or infill sliver panel. The façade is two modules high, expressing the two-storey interior. The panels sit on a slim concrete plinth that in turn hovers just above the ground; they also terminate flush against the sky.
The library might be read as a three-pronged star extending asymmetrically...

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