Revealed: Steven Holl's world of watercolours

My projects start the same way. Me, alone, my little watercolour pad in front of me, at five thirty in the morning, trying to come up with some concepts
– Steven Holl

Steven Holl has revealed to CLADglobal the role that watercolour painting plays in his design process; offering a rare glimpse of some of the artwork he has created over his five-decade-long career.

In a lengthy interview, the architect said he always starts work on new building projects the same way: “Me, alone, my little watercolour pad in front of me, at five thirty in the morning, trying to come up with some concepts.”

He described the process as “always a struggle and a mystery”, with his team helping him transform his sometimes abstract ideas on paper into detailed, large-scale models, which are then gradually brought to reality.

Holl's interest in art and the creative process has led to a particular fascination with arts buildings, which he described as “the most important programme you can do as an architect.” His most acclaimed completed projects include the semi-translucent Reid Building at the Glasgow School of Art, the curving Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art in Helsinki and the interconnected glowing volumes of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, while he recently completed work on the Glassell School of Art at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston (MFAH).

“I feel, in a certain sense, that religion and philosophy cannot provide the meaning that we need in our lives today, whereas art can give us a window into our human needs,” he told CLADglobal. “The art museum has become a social condenser, a place of gathering, a kind of 21st-century cathedral.”

Our full interview with Steven Holl features in the most recent issue of CLADmag, and can be read here.

The watercolours of Steven Holl

Glassell School of Art at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston

Completed earlier this month, this L-shaped building features a sloping, walkable roofline that runs the length of the structure and connects a wide-stepped amphitheatre at its base and a roof garden above.

Glassell School of Art watercolour

Glassell School of Art

The Institute of Contemporary Art Virginia

Sited at the edge of the Virginia Commonwealth University campus in Richmond, Virginia, the newly-completed Institute for Contemporary Art links the University with the surrounding community. With ian inviting double-fronted forum opening to a serene sculpture garden, the 41,000sq ft (3,800sq m) building "provides spatial energy for the most important cutting-edge contemporary art exhibits."

The Institute of Contemporary Art Virginia watercolour

The Institute of Contemporary Art Virginia

Horizontal Skyscraper – Vanke Center Shenzhen

Hovering over a tropical garden, this ‘horizontal skyscraper’ – as long as the Empire State Building is tall – unites office spaces, apartments and a hotel. A conference centre, spa and parking are located under the large green, public landscape. The project was completed in 2009.

Horizontal Skyscraper – Vanke Center Shenzhen, watercolour

Horizontal Skyscraper – Vanke Center Shenzhen,

The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art Kansas City

Completed in 2007, this museum extension was described by The New York TImes as “a work of haunting power.” Holl added a new building that extends along the eastern edge of the museum campus, and is distinguished by five glass lenses, traversing from the existing building through the Sculpture Park to form new spaces and angles of vision.

The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art Kansas City watercolour

The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art Kansas City

Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art Helsink

The concept of Kiasma, which opened in 1998, involves the building's mass intertwining with the geometry of the city and landscape which are reflected in the shape of the building. Inside, the general character of the rooms, which are almost rectangular with one wall curved, "allows for a silent yet dramatic backdrop for the exhibition of contemporary art."

Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art Helsinki watercolour

Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art Helsink

Malawi Library

This 66,000sq ft (6,100sq m) institution, currently under construction, is being funded and developed by The Miracle for Africa Foundation to provide social and study spaces in Malawi’s capital, Lilongwe. The building, which will be created using local stone, bamboo and concrete, will have a wave-like roof fitted with photovoltaic solar panels that power the whole net-zero complex

Malawi Library watercolour

Malawi Library


Holl recently won an international design competition to create this 2 million sq ft (200,000sq m) mixed-use district on a former paratrooper airfield in Moscow. The site, situated near the Moscow River, was for the greater part of the 20th century home to a flying and parachuting school and acted as an aviation parade ground. To reference its history, the winning design places the different amenities in separate volumes, described as a new building typology called ‘Parachute Hybrids’. According to Holl, “these [Parachute Hybrids] combine residential bar and slab structures with supplemental programming suspended in sections above, like parachutes frozen in the sky”. Large circular openings in the towers’ facades give a defining geometric character and will be filled with the health and social spaces.

Tuschimo watercolour


Shanghai Cofco Cultural & Health Center - Shanghai

The design concept for this two-building complex is described by the studio as a merging of “clouds and time,” in reference to philosopher Karl Popper’s 1965 lecture on the evolutionary model of free will, which was titled “Of Clouds and Clocks.” The buildings will be set in a public landscape, organised in large clock-like circles forming a central public space. A quarter circle pool and fountain will provide rainwater recycling for the complex.

Shanghai Cofco Cultural & Health Center watercolour

Shanghai Cofco Cultural & Health Center

All images courtesy of Steven Holl Architects

Steven Holl  watercolours  Glassell School of Art  Institute of Contemporary Art Virginia  Vanke Center  Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art  Kiasma Museum 
Related stories

Steven Holl completes Glassell School of Art at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston

Steven Holl blames 'corruption in power' for construction industry's failure to embrace renewable energy in hard-hitting interview

Medieval fortress and Apocalypse Tapestry inspire Steven Holl's museum and hotel design for Angers

'Parachutes frozen in the sky': Historic airfield inspires Steven Holl's mixed-use Moscow district

Steven Holl's cloud-inspired Houston art gallery breaks ground

Clocks and clouds inspire Steven Holl's Shanghai culture and health centre

Steven Holl returns with sculptural arts complex in Iowa

FEATURE: Interview – Steven Holl

Steven Holl has revealed to CLADglobal the role that watercolour painting plays in his design process; offering a rare glimpse of some of the artwork he has created over his five-decade-long career. In a lengthy interview, the architect said he always starts work on new building projects the same way: “Me, alone, my little watercolour pad in front of me, at five thirty in the morning, trying to come up
Steven Holl creates watercolours for each of his designs, which are then transformed into large-scale models and gradually brought to reality / Steven Holl Architects
More news
News stories: 1 - 30 of 7517     
News stories: 1 - 30 of 7517     
company profile
Company profile: DJW
DJW offer a way to interpret your story through the use of technology. We can provide Audio Visual consultancy to assist in the planning stage, follow up with AV system design, supply and installation, and provide a bespoke control system to suit your operational needs.
Try cladmag for free!
Sign up with CLAD to receive our regular ezine, instant news alerts, free digital subscriptions to CLADweek, CLADmag and CLADbook and to request a free sample of the next issue of CLADmag.
sign up
Extreme Climates: Into the wild
"Funding woes and murky timelines are common problems. It can be easier to make a difference one small project at a time"

From parks designed to mitigate the effects of flooding to warming huts for one of the world’s coldest cities, these projects have been designed for increasingly extreme climates

Catalogue Gallery
Click on a catalogue to view it online
To advertise in our catalogue gallery: call +44(0)1462 431385
SHL managing director Sanne Wall-Gremstrup (right) and Perkins+Will CEO Phil Harrison
"Most clients are very focused on how buildings are used and experienced as the primary design driver"

The MD of Schmidt Hammer Lassen and the CEO of PerkinsWill tell us why their merger will help create smarter buildings driven by human behaviour

Marianne Shillingford
"The technology involved in paint is extraordinary"

Used cleverly, colour has the power to influence how people use the spaces they inhabit, says the creative director of Dulux

"I believe gardens are where the soul rests"

With a focus on desert landscapes and collaborations with Zaha Hadid and OMA, the principal of Francis Landscapes has a deep belief in the power of nature

Houston’s Memorial Park is being restored following hurricane damage
Thomas Woltz
"I am very proud of stewarding the largest public space to be built in Manhattan in a century"

The Wall Street Journal’s Design Innovator of the Year on designing the gardens at Hudson Yards and looking to the Native Americans for ideas on how to create a resilient future

Manuelle Gautrand
"The cities where you have good cultural buildings and facilities – it’s a way for people to mix, to share the city in a much deeper way"

The French architect and winner of the 2017 European Prize for Architecture tells us why she is determined to surprise

cladkit product news
XTU concept imagines life in the clouds
XTU's X Cloud concept is part of the Future and the Arts: AI, Robotic, Cities, Life - How Humanity Will Live Tomorrow exhibition at the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo
Lauren Heath-Jones
XTU Architects, a Paris-based architecture firm, has released images and renderings of X Cloud, a new concept that showcase a ...
Metalline transforms London hotel with bespoke aluminium fins
The aluminium fins will form the façade of the upcoming Minories Hotel in Aldgate, London
Lauren Heath-Jones
Metalline, an architectural metalwork specialist based in the UK, has created a range of bespoke 3D twisted metal fins for ...
BIG partners with Louis Poulsen for new lighting collection
The Keglen collection is made up of four different pendants
Lauren Heath-Jones
BIG Ideas, the technology arm of renowned architecture firm Bjarke Ingles Group (BIG), has partnered with Danish lighting manufacturer Louis ...
cladkit product news
1885 Lounge at St Mary's Stadium celebrates Southampton FC's history
Rainbow Design worked closely with KSS Architects to ensure the furniture matched the design vision
Lauren Heath-Jones
KSS Architects has partnered with Rainbow Design, a London-based furniture supplier, to create the 1885 Lounge at St Mary's Stadium, ...
Daniel Svahn creates furniture collection using repurposed table tops
The Goodies But Oldies collection features three pieces made from repurposed MDF table tops
Lauren Heath-Jones
Daniel Svahn, a Stockholm-based furniture designer, has created a new range of sustainable furnishings, made from recycled MDF tabletops. Svahn, ...
Tom Dixon collaborates with Prolicht to launch CODE lighting range
The product has three LED light sources: Dot, Dash and Grid
Megan Whitby
British designer, Tom Dixon, and Austrian architectural lighting specialists, Prolicht, have collaborated to unveil a new lighting range. Called CODE, ...
cladkit product news
Canteen collection combines nostalgia with modern aesthetics
The Canteen collection was inspired by post-war British design techniques
Lauren Heath-Jones
Very Good & Proper (VG&P), a British furniture brand, has curated a new dining collection that combines traditional woodworking techniques ...
Naval architect launches solar-powered floating pods
The Anthénea pod is a luxury floating suite that could be used as a spa or treatment suite
Lauren Heath-Jones
Naval architect Jean-Michel Ducancelle has designed a solar-powered floating hotel suite aimed at offering an eco-friendly and nomadic place for ...
Barr + Wray to launch space saving hammam concept
Light shines through a striking central chandelier to create a feeling of movement
Katie Barnes
Smaller footprint. Maximum theatre. Those are the two main features of a new hammam concept being developed by wet spa ...
Sign up with CLAD for regular news updates