Set in a woodland preserve in Rhinebeck between the Hudson River and Round Pond is the Steven Myron Holl Foundation Architectural Archive and Research Library. Its design reveals the process of adding new to old on the site, with the different sections of the new build branching off among the trees of the densely wooded ‘T’ Space Reserve. The American architect speaks of “brachiating time,” referring to the addition of new architecture in contrast to an existing 1940s bungalow, which anchors the extension to the site.
Along with 20,000 watercolors, and drawings by Steven Holl, reflecting every step in his design process, the gallery houses 3700 books, original works of art, sketches, drawings, and prints by numerous artists, including Louis Kahn, Zaha Hadid, and Lebbeus Woods. Towering white aluminum shelves display no fewer than 1200 architectural models from 1977 to the present.
The building currently occupies an area of around 2700 square feet (250 m2) but has been designed so it can be extended by a further 5300 square feet (487 m2), continuing to branch farther out among the trees. The spatial design can be seen in the architect’s watercolors, which clearly map out each phase of the gallery’s future expansion and their form.
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The open form of the composition is intended to make visitors reflect on the process of acquiring knowledge as something that’s vital, dynamic, and open. Over forty years of literature, art, and architecture are preserved on the shelves, documenting the evolution of a learning path projected towards the future.
The dynamic nature of the composition is further accentuated by the façade materials. By reflecting light in a discontinuous way, narrow bands of corrugated aluminum cladding bring to mind the faceted nature of light, filtered by the movement of the surrounding leaves. Light also enters the interiors from overhead windows and windows that interrupt the façade to frame the surrounding green landscape.
Attention to the natural setting isn’t just visual, with both the services and green roof the result of a design approach centered on sustainability. The building is also heated and cooled by a 500-foot-deep (152 m) geothermal well, which produces radiant underfloor heating. Despite the large size of the archive and library, a commitment to preserving the natural setting led to a series of design choices that interact with the setting. After all, the importance of our connection with nature is something Steven Holl often talks about.
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The light, the river, the forest, and the lake are all strong presences in this location. And it’s no coincidence that this natural landscape, north of the city of New York, was once a popular destination for the painters of the Hudson River School, inspired by the daily miracle of sunsets in the Hudson Valley. Rhinebeck is also a place where ideas are born, specifically in the wooden Round Lake Hut on the banks of the lake. An ideal place for the architect to work, it’s also a place of memory. But the memory of imagination, as it creates new architectural experiments that form both a starting point and a point of return.
>>> You have until July 14 to register for THE PLAN Award 2022, an annual international award for excellence in architecture, interior design, and urban planning with 20 categories, including CULTURE, dedicated to museums, libraries and cultural centres
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Location: Rhinebeck, New York (USA)
Client: Steven Myron Holl Foundation
Building Area: 2,763 sq. m
Architect: Steven Holl Architects
Structures: Robert Silman Associates
Photography by Paul Warchol, courtesy of Steven Holl Architects
Drawings courtesy of Steven Holl Architects