The Edward M. Dowd Art and Art History Building at Santa Clara University unites formerly scattered studio and academic programs within a new 45,000-square-foot facility designed by Form4 Architecture to promote innovation, creativity, and collaborative learning. Tradition and innovation are blended into a confident scheme where art is produced, reflected upon, recorded, and narrated. The new building is part of a major redesign of the northwest side of campus into a vibrant creative district, and positions the art and art history department near theater, music, and dance facilities.
The three floors of the building offer contemporary, technology-rich classrooms and studios, including the “Virtual Canvas” and “Imaginarium” for digital 3D projects. Two dedicated computer classrooms double the instructional space for digital arts classes, compared to the department’s previous space. Media-centered classrooms bring the study of art history close to the spaces where art is created.
“Given the university’s proximity to Silicon Valley giants, such as Pixar Animation and Lucas Films, the new facility will offer unparalleled support for the aspirations and ambitions of graduates to compete in digital design, computer imaging, and 3D animation,” says John Marx, AIA, Design Principal of San Francisco-based Form4, the design architect for the building. “It is intended to add new energy and momentum to the performing and creative arts facilities already found on the campus.”
The Dowd Building is designed to make a positive impact on the local community and a wide range of students, including the more than 1,000 undergraduates who enroll in studio art and art history classes as part of the university’s core curriculum. Light-filled, shared work spaces for students, faculty, and visiting artists enhance opportunities for collaboration among these groups. Classrooms and studios occupy perimeter spaces to take advantage of windows, while services, storage, and restrooms occupy a central, interior zone on each floor.
Its stylistic setting is markedly historical, with a recognizable palette of building elements, such as cornices, arcades, loggias, and towers. Contemporary formal gestures—asymmetries, juxtaposed geometries, offset planes, and multiple rhythmic openings—easily coexist with quotations from the classical period. The exterior skin is an exercise in flirtation with the architectural syntax of a Renaissance palace, with its base, middle section, and termination wrapping a rather contemporary volumetric composition.
The building’s planning diagram and vertical organization are unapologetically modern. The ground level accommodates the creation of 3D works in studios for sculpture and ceramics. The second floor includes offices, a dedicated photo lighting studio and a work space for visiting artists, as well as an informal learning space in which students may study and socialize between classes. The third floor accommodates the instruction of 2D media, including painting, drawing, photography, printmaking, and graphic design. Two dedicated computer classrooms provide the opportunity to increase offerings in digital art and photography. The glass-enclosed rotunda at the top of the building provides a shared space for receptions and gatherings, and access to digital arts classrooms and an outdoor terrace overlooking a sculpture garden and pedestrian campus mall on street level.
Considerable space is dedicated to the display of art from all media in the building. A glass sculpture by Seattle artist Dale Chihuly hangs in the two-story entrance foyer to greet all who enter the building. On the ground and third floors, gallery space accommodates student, faculty, and visiting artist exhibitions, as well as provides a flexible venue for lectures and community programs.
“A noted architectural historian once said that buildings have an esthetic effect and an evocative effect,” says Marx, “and from there, strong emotional responses ensue and a shared sense of place comes into being. Those larger aspirations fed the intent behind this design.”
Form4 Architecture believes architecture is the art of giving form to ideas. In 2017, the firm was named winner of the American Prize for Architecture, also known as The Louis H. Sullivan Award, by The Chicago Athenaeum Museum of Architecture and Design and The European Centre for Architecture Art Design and Urban Studies. Form4 creates formal expressions that are not only poetically moving and conceptually thoughtful, but also reflective of the client’s values and goals. As collaborative partners in the design process, the principals of Form4 Architecture—Robert J. Giannini, John Marx, AIA, Paul Ferro, AIA, and James Tefend—are personally involved with every project from concept to completion, bringing the collective wealth of years of expertise and knowledge to each client's vision. Since 1999, the firm has built a rich portfolio of award-winning work for national and international clients within diverse market sectors.