Two Years After the Flood, University of Iowa Continues to Wait to Rebuild or Relocate Vacant Arts Buildings

This writer is a regular visitor to Iowa City, his former home and location of his beloved alma mater, and while it’s always a great time to go back, we’re always left in a bit of a slump whenever we happen to drive by Steven Holl‘s beautiful Art Building West for the University of Iowa, knowing that it’s just sitting there vacant. Just two years after it opened, the building was swallowed by water during the massive Iowa River flood of 2008. But even with the water pumped out and the building cleaned, as we were told the last time we were visiting, the University is no longer able to get it insured, given the potential of another big flood. The same trouble is being had nearby, with U of I’s Museum of Art, which was also severely damaged in 2008 (given its even-closer proximity to the river). The University has returned to the Federal Emergency Management Agency to ask for help. FEMA had initially agreed to pay to restore the building, but because it wasn’t damaged completely, they wouldn’t help with the funds needed to move it or build something new. The catch is, again, no one will insure it or the art inside, so what’s the point of restoring an art museum without being able to put in any art? So they’re trying FEMA again, to see if maybe this time something pans out for the better. In the interim, things with the Art Building West have led to both irony (the long-vacated building just won an award by the Society for College and University Planning) and something more promising, with earlier in the year the University announcing that Holl would be designing another, yet-unrelated arts building for them (in association with BNIM Architects), which should arrive in the next few years.