ABSTRACT

The related conditions of translucency and luminosity have been

definitive themes in the work of Steven Holl, who writes, “The idea

of trapping light or building out of blocks of light is something I’ve

long been obsessed with.”1 Indeed, Holl’s body of work, dating

back to the late 1970s, clearly shows the numerous results of this

fascination.2 More recent designs for large-scale cultural institu-

tions built around the world-beginning with the Kiasma Museum

(1998) in Helsinki and including the Nelson-Atkins Museum (2007)

in Kansas City and the Nanjing Sifang Art Museum (2012) in

China-have focused, in part, on the development of innovative

glass building skins that deliver the “trapped light” of Holl’s

obsession.3 However, a smaller and perhaps lesser known project,

located in Holl’s home territory of New York City, offers a par-

ticularly instructive case study of this pursuit. The Higgins Hall

Insertion (2005) in Brooklyn, designed by Steven Holl Architects,

houses the Pratt Institute School of Architecture and includes a

distinctively translucent building envelope that infuses the interior

with natural light and glows from within at night. It is also the

project which most directly recalls an earlier twentieth-century

building that has undoubtedly been influential to the work of Holl

and other contemporary architects similarly engaged with translu-

cency-Pierre Chareau’s Maison de Verre of 1932. This chapter

will present an analysis of the unique enclosure systems of these

two buildings, their material innovations, and the ways in which

the condition of translucency is deployed to address concerns

both practical and poetic.