Meet Steven Holl at Building Green Copenhagen

More ecological invention in cities and preservation of natural landscape

Steven Holl, founder of Steven Holl Architects is speaking at Building Green Copenhagen 4 November at Main Stage in Forum. Hear him speak about his work, light and air and more ecological invention in the cities.

In this article, you can read an interview with Steven Holl.

What will you talk about at Building Green and what is your perspective on the main theme this year: “everything is connected”?

The lecture is titled “Air/Light/Greenspace: Post-COVID Architecture”, where I summarize our projects that feature natural light to all spaces, windows that open for natural ventilation, geothermal heating and cooling, integration of green spaces, recycled water systems, and water gardens that have frogs, turtles, and other animals that we coexist with. For example, every project that I have done here in Rhinebeck, New York has a little frog pond. I bring the rainwater from the roof, and lead it into a recycled water pond where turtles and frogs live. Because they eat the mosquito, we don’t have that problem. In the wintertime it freezes, and the frogs are underneath. When the ice melts, the frogs come out in the spring again. It’s a cycle of life and that is a miniature thing that you can do in any project.

Which Steven Holl Architects’ project are you most excited about right now?

Currently, we are working on a daycare center in Vancouver for children. I am very keen because I have a five-and-a-half-year-old daughter, who I drive to kindergarten each morning, and I have a one-and-a-half-year-old son. So, I’m very excited to be working on a daycare center. Then we’re working on the Ostrava Concert Hall in the Czech Republic. That is a 1,300-seat concert hall. Someone once asked me: “Steven, if you could choose anything, what would you like to build?” And I said: “A concert hall.” So, I’m very excited that we’re building a concert hall in Ostrava. We are also doing the University College Dublin Creative Design Centre, which is the entrance to the University where James Joyce attended, the great author of Ulysses and Finnegans Wake. He graduated from there and some of the ideas in our building come from Joyce. Those are three things that are ongoing, and they are all very exciting.

Steven Holl, Founder of Steven Holl Architects

You are very well-known for your work with air and light. How have these themes in construction and architecture developed over the past years?

We just finished the Museum of Fine Arts in Huston, which is based on the big Texas sky and clouds and how light could come in. I called the top of the building a luminous canopy where light comes in through the cracks and slides across the bottom of these cloud-like formations. The entire building is enclosed in light glowing glass tubes that are 30 inches in diameter, and they’re called a “cold jacket”. They take the Texas sunlight and draw the hot air up across the building. This is an energy idea and it reduces the solar gain by 90 %. When you look at the building at night, these glowing tubes are also about the light.

I designed a museum in Cassino, Italy 20 years ago, which I called a “score of light”. The whole building was just about strips of light that enter the galleries in different ways. It was never built, but now the clients are thinking to fund and build it. I designed it 22 years ago, but it doesn’t matter. I don’t have a style that has to be in fashion. That’s why I can take a building that I did 22 years ago and say: “Yes, I want to build it, just the way I drew it then.”

The design of light should change with the scale. What I would say about urban light is that you should not build skyscrapers too close together. In New York, it’s a disaster. In Hudson Yards, they build the buildings too close together, and they are always in shadow. There’s no sunlight. It’s a terrible example of future urbanism, it’s all about developer’s greed. I just hope that people around the world don’t follow that kind of example. Hudson Yards is right across the street from my office. It’s probably the worst urban form that you could make. Too close together, not enough light. Light is very important in the city!

How can the building industry contribute to a more sustainable future?

I would like to see more ecological invention in cities and at an urban scale, and more preservation of the natural landscape. I think we must find ways to restore and preserve the natural landscape, especially globally, and build our cities with better ecological frames with green spaces. As architects, can we design in terms of the life of humanity and biodiversity on this planet? I think we can, even with my little example of the frog ponds. The extinction of species is one crisis of our planet, and amphibians are one of the most endangered species. I think I have built five frog ponds now and they are full of frogs, and salamanders come around there too. In this tiny way, I’m addressing one of the gigantic problems that we face on this planet, which is the preservation of natural species and biodiversity, habitat restoration and protection.

In the future, I think architects have to be optimistic. The world is full of pessimists today. As a builder and a creator of future things, one of the key things is that you need to cultivate optimistic ideas. I do believe that we have a future that we can create.

Do you want to hear more about air, light and ecological invention?

Join us at Building Green Copenhagen on 3-4 November. You can read more here and sign up here.

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