Richmond, VA

Institute for Contemporary Art at VCU

7,488 30mm BASWA Phon Classic Fine

Architizer's A+ Awards Project of the Year

Located at the edge of Virginia Commonwealth University is the Institute for Contemporary Arts, a non-collecting contemporary art institution thoughtfully designed by Steven Holl Architects, with the intent of unifying the surrounding community through arts and the university. The highly-anticipated ICA is deftly situated at the cities busiest intersection, Broad and Belvidere, streets that once marked the boundary between white and black communities in Richmond.

The ICA, intentionally designed to appear as fingers outstretched to the surrounding community, abides by a mission to engage visitors through ever-changing exhibits, film screenings, public lectures, performances, symposia, community events, and interdisciplinary programs. Guided by VCU’s top-ranked School of the Arts, the ICA has visions of creating a hub for a growing community of art lovers with exhibitions and programming in the museum acting as a “social condenser” and driving force for community collaboration. 

Unlike many museums and institutions, the ICA will be a non-collecting museum, giving the museum an opportunity to focus on displaying contemporary art that is being created throughout the world today. In support of modern contemporary art, the ICA’s fluid structure was designed by Steven Holl Architects to convey the power in contemporary art, in all media forms.

In support of the diverse characteristics of today’s art, the ICA is fluid throughout with glass walls and windows used to create continuity between the exterior space and 41,000-square-foot interior. The first floor of the space is complete with a 33-foot high central forum, a 4,000-square foot gallery area, a 240-seat auditorium for film screenings, cafe, and bar. The inviting first floor opens to the “The Thinking Field” garden which will host social gatherings and public programs. The second floor is complete with two galleries and a “learning lab,” the area is also complete with one of four green roofs. The third floor features additional gallery space with sweeping walls and also houses administrative suites and the boardroom. Other facilities necessary for the operations of the institution are all located in the lower level.

While the design of the museum adequately positions the ICA as an international contributor to the contemporary arts, the space also adheres to VCU’s master sustainability plan. Meaning, the project incorporates technology and environmentally conscious materials to make appropriate use of natural resources. The project is designed to meet LEED Gold Certification standards.


We designed the ICA to be a flexible, forward-looking instrument that will both illuminate and serve as a catalyst for the transformative possibilities of contemporary art.

Steven Holl

Like many contemporary artists working today, the ICA’s design does not draw distinctions between the visual and performing arts. The fluidity of the design allows for experimentation and will encourage new ways to display and present art that will capitalize on the ingenuity and creativity apparent throughout the VCU campus.

Steven Holl

As a vital new dimension to the university and community, it was imperative that the ICA be designed to the potential of the architect while fostering sustainability and visitor’s experience. The museum’s dramatic use of materials and open space, while stunning, created a space filled with reverberant sound that could negatively affect patron’s ability to connect with one another and the art within the space. To remedy the acoustical issues within the space, the BASWA Phon Sound Absorbing Plaster System was integrated into the design. 

BASWA Phon is an acoustical plaster that appears to be a standard plaster ceiling or wall, allowing the architect to remedy acoustics without sacrificing design. BASWA Phon consists of a durable marble finish applied to a mineral wool panel designed to significantly reduce reverberation within a space. By reducing reverberation BASWA Phon makes the intentional sound within a space more intelligible and has a positive impact on occupant wellbeing by directly contributing to learning and health. BASWA Phon is the ideal acoustical product for creating a connected museum environment. 

BASWA Phon was integrated throughout the first floor and 33-foot-tall central forum, to reduce the standard reverberation, or echoing, that would occur in a building utilizing high ceilings and hard surfaces. Despite the use of hard surfaces, a 33-foot high ceiling being juxtaposed to glass and the open floor plan of the museum, the museum is tranquil with the integration of BASWA Phon. 

Steven Holl’s vision for the ICA was thoughtful down to the choice of materials to foster the university’s sustainability plan. In line with this sustainability plan, the BASWA Phon Sound Absorbing Plaster system is designed with sustainability and occupant health in mind. BASWA Phon can potentially provide a project with 14 credits in accordance with LEED v4. Additionally, the high light reflectance of BASWA Phon supports the architect’s use of windows and natural light. 

The Institute for the Contemporary Arts is now open to the public. From location to architecture, to the art within the museum, the ICA is quickly becoming a “social condenser” for the community of Richmond and the world to enjoy and gaining recognition. The Institute for Contemporary Art at VCU was recently awarded the prestigious, Architizer's A+ Awards Project of the Year.

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Institute for Contemporary Art at VCU

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