Stanley Art Building celebrates 50 years looking toward a fresh future
In 2008, the Iowa City area had about five to six days warning that the Coralville Reservoir would overflow.
"This is now the beginning of the end," said University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld.
Behind him, performance artist Tony Orrico had just finished rocking back and forth, using his body to create a circle made from a collection of bilateral lines. Orrico just completed the last in a series of eight similar works, but that wasn't the end Harreld meant.
"Today marks the beginning of the end of recovery for the 2008 flood," he remarked to a crowd gathered for the groundbreaking of the new Stanley Museum of Art. "Almost to the day."
It was 1969 when the University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art was founded, it was June of 2008 when it was evacuated for flooding and on June 7, 2019 at 3 p.m., it officially began to rise beyond the setback of the flood.
According to Rodney Lehnertz, Senior Vice President of Finance & Operations at the University of Iowa, the decision to build in a new location was motivated by a need to protect the thousands of art pieces the museum will eventually house. Though the original building at 150 N. Riverside Dr. was not irreparably damaged by floodwaters and the art within remained intact, the building was rendered uninsurable because of its proximity to the Iowa River. The new building is designed to offer more secure accommodations for the museum's collection.
"The building will include a ground level parking lot beneath the museum itself," Lehnertz wrote in an e-mail to the Press-Citizen. "This will provide immediate and covered parking, but will also elevate the entire building and its mechanical and electrical systems an entire floor above grade and any future flooding risks, even if levels would reach significantly higher than our 2008 event."
According to building director Lauren Lessing, who was hired just over a year ago, any flood that might threaten the building will instead drain into the parking garage, which will act as a receptacle for water should the river overflow.
"We just saw this system work really well in Davenport with the Figge Art Museum," said Lessing. "The water, although it was all around the Figge, did not touch the first floor because they had a parking garage underneath them just as we will."
On top of that—literally—the art will be stored on the third floor of the building, meaning there is little likelihood future flooding will ever approach it. All 16,000 pieces of art, most of which are on loan across the country, will return to campus upon the building's completion. Even during the decade the building's been closed, the collection has continued to grow. Lessing estimates the collection is 1,000 pieces larger than it was at the time of the flood, and the new building is set to accommodate a collection which will continue to grow.
BNIM is the Iowa architecture firm selected to design the museum. The firm was selected not only for its "project and museum experiences through the U.S." but also lead architect Rod Kruse's involvement in designing other UI buildings such as the Iowa Advanced Technology Laboratories, Art Building West and the New Visual Arts Building.
According to Jennifer Hoffman, with UI design project management, potential contractors will be able to view the bid documents starting early next week. Hoffman expects a final selection of contractor will be made in "mid to late July."
$50 million dollars is the budget for the construction of the building, half of which the Stanley Art Museum has been challenged to raise on its own. According to Lehnertz, this was done because the Federal Government "did not agree to fund any part of the museum replacement." Events like Steins for Stanley at Big Grove Brewery on June 6 have helped raise money for the $25 million goal. As of the start of June, 2019, Lessing estimated $20 million had so far been raised.
Assuming all proceeds to plan, construction is expected to take around 22 months, meaning the new building should open in 2021. Once it does, Lessing's goal is that every UI student, at some point during their college career, will visit the museum for a class. Doing so, she believes, can not only culturally enrich students, but can also give the art department more insight into its own collection.
Beyond partnering with other university departments Lessing has also spent time researching what UI students want from the building. Flexibility is going to be a critical part of the museum. The building will have classroom spaces, performance spaces, a front terrace which will be able to operate like a stage facing Gibson Square Park and moving walls which allow any classroom to transform into a display space. The lobby in particular will have an acoustic ceiling, a drop down screen to show films and a wall featuring works from local artists. It will also look out onto an atrium space, "a light-well open to the sky" at the heart of the art museum where some art might also be displayed.
It was in lobby space that Lessing made one of the few design alterations to the initial plan after she surveyed students to see what they wanted.
"I have included water in the walls for a coffee cart that will always be there, and lots of plugs in the floors, so that students can plug their laptops in and have a place to study," she said. "We also included a great amount of furniture in this space so people can sit down."
Lessing also said that when they add further onto the building 10 years down the line, they plan on connecting the edifice with the UI Library to make the space even more accessible. Which, to hear Lessing speak, is the aim of the new building.
“It really is to transform lives by bringing the public into contact with extraordinary works of art,” said Lessing. “We want to do that here on campus, we want to do that in the state of Iowa, and we want to reach the world through this building and our world class collections.”