Steven Holl’s Architectural Archive Preserves His Firm’s Designs and the Landscape
Steven Holl can often be found reading poetry and painting watercolors in a tiny cabin overlooking lotus flowers on the edge of a lake in Rhinebeck, New York. The cabin sits on a 28-acre reserve that Holl purchased in 2014 that now hosts Holl’s full-time office, and ‘T’ Space, a nonprofit arts organization offering creative exhibitions, environmental installations, and architectural residencies. Wrapping around several large trees and linking through a passageway to another existing 1959 cabin, the Steven Myron Holl Foundation’s Architectural Archive and Research Library, built in 2019, is the latest building to be carefully situated in the lush landscape.
Holl covered the exterior surface of the 2,700-square-foot archive in an aluminum cladding with narrow corrugated bands that reflect light and diffuse shadows as the structure weaves through the landscape. It is heated and cooled by a 500-foot-deep geothermal well, which produces radiant underfloor heating while consuming almost zero energy. A green roof was installed in May. Local zoning allows Holl to extend the lodge up to 8,000 square feet, so the archive is anticipated to branch farther out as its collection grows.
The library contains 3,700 published volumes that have influenced Holl since the start of his career, alongside rows of sketchbooks containing 20,000 watercolor drawings and artworks by architects like Louis Kahn, Zaha Hadid, and Lebbeus Woods, and artists like Richard Tuttle and Kiki Smith. Tall white aluminum shelves display architectural models—1,200 in all—dating back to 1977.
“People are excited to see the creativity of the models and many iterations of a concept displayed in the archives,” says ‘T’ Space curator and director Susan Wides. “It’s really been inspiring to artists and the general public. They come away with an expanded view of the art of architecture.”
It’s a special place for the architecture cognoscenti and public to gain a greater appreciation for Holl’s iterative process and the influence of a variety of aesthetic media on his designs. It is also a verdant site that prioritizes local ecology. “I left all the trees. I never cut a tree down,” Holl says. “The branching form has to do partly with saving the trees.”
Inside, unfinished birch ply forms an interior shell that encloses a super-insulated wooden structure. The walls are punched through with high-tech insulated glass skylights and eye-level apertures opening to the wilderness.
“It’s unlike when you’re in an urban situation, where you can’t really experiment with sunlight like you can here in a landscape,” Holl says. “We make [the residents] work in models and natural light. This is really important today because students are completely polluted by the internet.”
Having just moved the models to the library before the pandemic hit, the team has been organizing the archive since then. “It brought momentum for this space,” says Dimitra Tsachrelia, Holl’s wife and associate at the firm. Instrumental in overseeing ‘T’ Space, she notes, “The models had just arrived in December in boxes, and because we were here it brought a push to bring the books and all the watercolors.”
Holl also began running his office in Rhinebeck full-time, albeit while maintaining offices in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood and in Beijing. He doesn’t want to go back. “I really like it, and everything was connecting fine with Zoom, so we just keep going,” Holl says. “It’s a gift from heaven to be able to go outside all the time.”
This article was originally published on Metropolis Magazine.