Institute for Contemporary Art at the Markel Center

“There is an ephemeral quality to the Institute for Contemporary Art at the Markel Center by BCWH Architects [now Quinn Evans] that has a captivating quality both inside and out. It draws visitors in for a transcendent experience enveloped in art.”

Sited at the edge of VCU’s campus in Richmond, Virginia, the new Institute for Contemporary Art at the Markel Center links the University with the surrounding community. At Richmond’s busiest intersection, Broad and Belvidere Streets, the building forms a gateway to the University with an inviting sense of openness. The main entrance is formed by an intersection of the performance space and forum, adding a vertical “Z” component to the “X-Y” movement of the intersection. The torsion of these intersecting bodies is joined by a “plane of the present” to the galleries in “forking time.”

The idea of “forking time” suggests that in the world of contemporary art there are many parallel time lines. The notion of one ongoing time line and its “grand narrative” of art history is questioned. The new Markel Center is organized into four galleries, each with a different character. Flexibility allows for four separate exhibitions, one continuous exhibition, or combinations. Galleries can be closed for installations without affecting the circulation to the others. One can begin the sequence through the four galleries by taking the over-sized elevator to the top and circling down, or by beginning at the lower gallery off the forum and moving up. Exposed concrete beams and planks in the galleries complement the concrete floors. As flexible spaces, the galleries can accept suspended art or projects anchored to the floor slab.

Vertical movement along the “plane of the present” links the galleries, the performance space, sculpture garden, and forum. Along this architectural promenade, the integration of all the building elements can be experienced in changing views.

The 41,000 sq ft building has a double front: one side opens from the city, the other from the VCU Campus, linking city and campus. On the ground level, the café opens directly onto the terrace, or “thinking field”, as does the forum. Paved in bluestone gravel, the garden is planted with gingko trees. A large reflecting pool shapes the sense of this garden as a “thinking field”.

The building is a dynamic experience of movement in time around the exterior as well as the interior. Approaching on foot from the west (from the University), the building unfolds in the parallax of changing perspectives. As you walk, the crunch of gravel under your feet is complemented by a view that gradually opens to reveal the lobby. If you arrive by car from the north, east, or south, the double vertical geometry in torsion marks a gateway presence, which changes shape as you pass by. At night, glowing planes of obscure glass activate the exterior. The flexible performance space has up to 240 seats and is designed to support a variety of musical, film, lecture, dance and performance art events.

The Markel Center’s fields of etched insulated glass are complemented by its greenish-grey zinc skin. Both materials constantly change their appearance under varying light and weather conditions.

The garden roofs include a sculpture terrace on the second level. The building is heated and cooled with geothermal wells and has achieved LEED gold certification.

The Institute for Contemporary Art at the Markel Center is a new gateway and catalyst, linking the University and the city of Richmond. With its inviting double-fronted forum opening to a serene “thinking field”, it provides spatial energy for the most important cutting-edge contemporary art exhibits.

The ICA’s architecture is an instrument for exhibitions, film screenings, public lectures, performances, symposia, and community events, engaging the University, the city, and beyond.

Project details:

Project Name: Institute for Contemporary Art at the Markel Center (Richmond, Va.)

Owner: The Institute for Contemporary Art, Virginia Commonwealth University

Associated Architect: BCWH Architects

Design Architect and Architect of Record: Steven Holl Architects

Contractor: Gilbane Building Company

Landscape Architect: Michael Boucher Landscape Architecture

Civil Engineer: VHB

Structural Engineer: Robert Silman Associates

MEP Consultants: ARUP and Ascent Engineering Group

Lighting Consultant: L’Observatoire International

Theatre Consultant: Theatre Consultants Collaborative

Technology and Security Consultant: Convergent Technologies Design Group

Food Service Consultant: Food Service Consultants Studio

Elevator Design: Jenkins & Huntington, Inc.

Curtain Wall Consultant: W.J. Higgins & Associates, Inc.

Sustainability Consultant: Sustainable Design Consulting, LLC

Design Awards for 2013 Announced

Across five award categories — Architecture, Contextual Design, Historic Preservation, Interior Design, and Residential Design — 29 projects were recognized for design excellence in 2013. Five separate juries identified 16 Honor Awards, 12 Merit Awards, and one special citation from a pool of 139 submissions. The awards recognize the very best work by designers working from Virginia. Held annually, the Awards for Excellence (also known as the Design Awards) celebrate projects no older than seven years that contribute to the built environment as clear examples of thoughtful and engaging design.

The 2013 Virginia Society AIA Awards for Excellence in Architecture presented by IMAGINiT Technologies, are sponsored by IMAGINiT Technologies, Donley’s, First Light VA, Hanbury Evans Wright Vlattas + Company, GeoEnvironmental Resources, Inc., Williams Mullen, and McPherson Design Group.

The winning projects will be the subject of an exhibition at the Virginia Center for Architecture called Design 2013: A Retrospective of Winning Work running Oct. 24, 2013–Jan. 5, 2014. The Opening Reception is Oct. 24 from 5:30–7:30 p.m.

Western Carolina University Health & Human Services by Clark Nexsen. Photo by Mark Herboth Photography.
Western Carolina University Health & Human Services by Clark Nexsen. Photo by Mark Herboth Photography.

In the ARCHITECTURE category

In deliberations, the jury—chaired by Thompson E. Penney, FAIA—considered aesthetics, adherence to the client program, proven and projected building performance, and concept development.

The three Architecture Honor Award recipients for 2013 are:

Western Carolina University Health & Human Sciences by Clark Nexsen
“A successful contrast to the natural setting out of which it grows, the building carefully pushes in the hillside contours, preserving a sensitive environment and gracefully stepping down the site,” noted the jury.

RdV Vineyards Winery by Neumann Lewis Buchanan Architects. Photo by Gordon Beall.
RdV Vineyards Winery by Neumann Lewis Buchanan Architects. Photo by Gordon Beall.

RdV Vineyards Winery by Neumann Lewis Buchanan Architects
“The structure is beautifully integrated with its spectacular site,” the jury said. “The interiors are quite bold and very well detailed and executed.

Buckingham County Public School by VMDO
“The masterful stitching together of two outdated mid-century schools into a new elementary school is very sophisticated, yet, at the same time, is very approachable for children,” said the jury.

The Architecture Jury also recognized four projects with Merit Awards:

Park Shops by Clark Nexsen

Buckingham County Primary and Elementary Schools by VMDO Architects. Photo by Alan Karchmer.
Buckingham County Primary and Elementary Schools by VMDO Architects. Photo by Alan Karchmer.

Tred Avon River House by Robert Gurney, FAIA

Verde Dining Facility by Hanbury Evans Wright Vlattas, and

Barcode House by David Jameson, FAIA



The awards for contextual design recognize outstanding architecture that perceptibly reflects the history, culture, and physical environment of the place in which it stands and that, in turn, contributes to the function, beauty, and meaning of its larger context.

The Context Jury, chaired by R. Randall Vosbeck, FAIA, awarded three projects with Honor Awards:

Holaday Athletic Center, U.S. Air Force Academy by Cannon Design
The project is notable“for its sustainable, contemporary design, which is most respectful of its well-known mid-century surroundings,” stated the jury.

Becherer House by Robert Gurney, FAIA, Architect
The jury noted the exquisite detailing and overall design as the deciding elements in convincing them that this project is relevant to its wooded setting.

Headquarters for Ruppert Nurseries by  Muse Architects
“This complex of new and remodeled buildings respects the 1898 Queen Anne Victorian farmhouse on the site,” said the jury of the nursery’s “overall agrarian character.”

The jury also awarded four projects with Merit Awards:

Duncan, McMurty, Baker & Will Rice Colleges of Rice University by Hopkins Architects, design architect, and Hanbury Evans Wright Vlattas, executive architect

E. Claiborne Robins Stadium, University of Richmond by BCWH, architect of record, and McMillan Pazdan Smith Architecture, associated architect

Bedford Hall Visual Arts Building, Longwood University by Moseley Architects, architect, and HGA, consulting visual arts design architect

University of Mary Washington Residence Halls Renovation by Bowie Gridley Architects

Additionally, the jury recognized The One Nest by McGraw Bagnoli Architects, with a special citation as a clever interpretation of a rural farmhouse related to its countryside site.



Aesthetic appeal and functionality are two long-established criteria for home design as are affordability and resource efficiency. The jury—chaired by 2014 national AIA Custom Residential Architecture Network Chair David Andreozzi, AIA—looked at each submission in its totality toward meeting those goals.

The Residential Design jury selected four projects for Honor Awards:

Three of those are by Robert Gurney, FAIA, Architect:

308 Mulberry, which the jury called “absolutely brilliant, a truly spectacular example of a minimally and expertly detailed project that respects the context of a site as well as the history of an existing structure.”

Difficult Run Residence which was called “a remarkable renovation,” by the jury. “Like the rolling landscape, the roof gracefully folds and rolls, thus unifying the house. It is quite an honor to the original architect.”


WISSIOMING2. “The lines of the house form a myriad of squares and volumes,” observed the jury. “Its connection to its vernacular is spellbinding from every direction.”

The jury also honored A Move to the City by Muse Architects. “This project’s exterior skin was restored from the last century, and its interior is transformed for the next century.”

The jury recognized Ocean Walk, by Studio Twenty-Seven Architecture, with a Merit Award.



The historic preservation category focuses specifically on excellence in strategies, tactics, and technologies that advance the art, craft, and science of preserving historically significant buildings and sites. The jury took into consideration adherence to local, state, and national criteria for historic preservation.

The Historic Preservation jury—chaired by Associate Dean of the College of Fine and Applied Arts at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign Gaines B. Hall, FAIA—recognized one with an Honor Award.

For the Honor Award, the jury recognized the National Academy of Sciences restoration by Quinn Evans Architects, which they called “beautifully executed. It followed the best of preservation practice in an exemplary way. This is a first-rate renovation of a landmark building.”

They recognized three projects with Merit Awards:

The Restoration of the 1917 Chesterfield Courthouse by Davis Buckley Architects & Planners

The State Theatre Restoration by Hanbury Evans Wright Vlattas, and

The Pierce Mill Complex by Quinn Evans


In the INTERIOR DESIGN category

Interior design project of distinction evince mastery of composition, functionality, material and color palettes, and well-integrated adherence to the highest levels of accessibility, health and safety, environmental, and occupant-comfort considerations, standards, and regulations.

The Interior Design Jury—chaired by Jose Castillo, cofounder of arquitectura 911sc in Mexico City—recognized five projects with Honor Awards; three by Robert Gurney, FAIA, Architect:

Lorber Tarler Residence, with its “clean palette of materials, finishes, and colors as well as the specific role the stair plays in organizing space and bringing in natural light.

Watergate Apartment, as “a clever use of geometry to achieve a better integration for what otherwise would feel like a small apartment. This space honors the legacy of Moretti’s 1960s masterpiece.”


5110-½ Offices, was lauded by the jury for how it draws light “into the deepest parts of the office. The organization in plan is warm, clean, and professionally formal.”

The jury also recognized the North Avenue Dining Hall at Georgia Tech by Hanbury Evans Wright Vlattas for “the way the project establishes a relationship between interior and exterior and between existing and new.


The Allsteel Showroom by Hickok Cole for its “sensitive integration of brand into physical space. The relationship between different ceilings, floorings, and lighting achieves an unmistakable identity and character.”