Steven Holl | USA

Medal Awarded: 1998

Medal Jury

Aimo Murtomäki, chair Finland
Jyrki Tasa
Markku Komonen
Pentti Kareoja
Niels Torp, Norway
Kenneth Frampton, USA

“Steven Holl is unquestionably one of the most interesting architects of our time. The continuous searching, the basic solution that grows out of the particular conditions of a place and the insightful use of materials that were characteristic of Aalto’s architecture also mark Steven Holl’s projects such as Stretto House and the Seattle chapel in the USA, the Fukuoka residential block in Japan and the Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art in Helsinki.”

  • Kiasma - Contemporary Art Museum Helsinki / Finland 1998

Steven Holl (1947-), USA

The eighth Alvar Aalto Medal was given to Steven Holl, best known in Finland as the architect of Helsinki’s Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art, where the medal was presented to him.

Holl was born in 1947 in Bremerton, Washington, near Seattle in the north-western United States. He studied architecture at the University of Washington in Seattle, graduating in 1970. After a year at the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London, he set up his own firm in New York in 1977. Holl has been a professor at Columbia University since 1981. He has also taught at the University of Washington, the Pratt Institute in New York and the University of Pennsylvania.

Holl’s firm, which has just over 50 employees, has offices in New York, San Francisco and Beijing. Holl is still the principal designer of all the firm’s projects. The firm’s other partners are Chris McVoy and Noah Yaffe. Besides in Finland and the US, the firm has realised designs in more than 10 European and Asian countries. Holl specialises in new buildings and expansions are seamlessly integrated into significant historic and cultural environments, as well as renovations of historic sites.

According to the Aalto Medal jury, “The palette of expression in Steven Holl’s architecture comprises the diversity of the sensual world; the sensitive management of climatic conditions, variations within each day, acoustics, surfaces and colours, reflections of water and light, all as architectural ingredients. His architecture unifies a clear conceptual idea with an element of surprise and contextual sensitivity.

The experientiality of Holl’s architecture is linked to his powerful management of scale: thematics from an urban scale to the smallest polished detail speak of the presence of various parts and the holistic links between them. The various elements of his architecture are chiasmatically entwined while retaining their independence, enriching each other and make the architecture a multisensory experience.
Surprising geometric solutions organically bind the external and internal appearances together into a kaleidoscopic experience in which fascinating new angles of view and sensations continuously open up as a result of motion.”

Besides cultural centres, Holl has designed furniture, libraries, churches, university buildings, hospital buildings, hotels, office and residential buildings, including the prize-winning five-part expansion of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City (2007), which was based on a competition entry, and the pedestrian-oriented Linked Hybrid complex in Beijing (2009), which includes more than 600 apartments, public space, commercial zones, a hotel, a cinema, a kindergarten, a school and underground parking.

The firm’s most recently completed sites are the Sliced Porosity Block in Chengdu, China (2012), which comprises five tower buildings and a large public plaza, the Nanjing Sifang Art Museum in China (2013), Columbia University’s Campbell Sports Center in New York (2013), the Reid Building in Glasgow, Scotland (2014), the University of Iowa Visual Arts Building (2016), the Ex of In House in New York State (2016) and Princeton University’s Lewis Center for the Arts, which opened in September 2017.

Ongoing projects include many cultural buildings: the Virginia Commonwealth University Institute for Contemporary Art, expansions of the Houston Museum of Art and Washington, DC’s John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the Hunters Point Community Library in New York, a library in Lilongwe, Malawi, Maggie’s Centre Barts support centre for cancer patients and their loved ones in London and the Meander block of flats, to be completed in Helsinki’s Taivallahti district in 2019.

Other awards bestowed on Holl include the AIA New York Medal of Honor (1997), the Chrysler Design Award (1998), the BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award (2009), the RIBA Jencks Award (2010), the AIA Gold Medal (2012), the Praemium Imperiale (2014) and the VELUX Foundation Daylight Award in Architecture (2016). Time Magazine has named him as ‘America’s Best Architect’.

© Alvar-Aalto Medal 2019