Higher education

Get a peek inside the new Voxman Music Building as University of Iowa project remains on track

Building promises to provide the merging of sight and sound

IOWA CITY — The University of Iowa’s new Voxman Music Building is already making a visual impact on the downtown landscape.

And when it opens in August, students, faculty, and the community still will see plenty of sights before they hear the sounds.

Thanks to intricate acoustic design, music swirling through a 700-seat auditorium won’t be heard in the music library directly below. The acoustic ceiling in the large performance hall is an intricate sculptural work of art to the eye, and promises sophistication of sound to the ear. Likewise, sound from the other practice rooms, classrooms, an additional 200-seat recital hall and other facilities will be acoustically isolated so visitors won’t step into a cacophony of clashing chords.

The towering structure looming above 93 E. Burlington St. is more than 60 percent complete. The $152 million facility is one part of a massive construction effort to recover from the devasating flood of 2008, which damaged more than 20 buildings on campus including ones devoted to the arts.

A new Hancher Auditorium is arising on the other side of the Iowa River and is expected to open in fall 2016. When a new UI Museum of Art eventually is built, it will go downtown next door to the music building.

David Gier, director of the UI School of Music, gave about 30 people gathered Monday at the Iowa City Public Library an update on and virtual tour of the music building.

Filling the common areas of the facility with light is a deliberate choice, he said.

The new structure, Gier said, could have been “done the easy way,” with a series of “concrete cubes laid out in a flat space.” But for music students and faculty who “live” in the building, he said access to light is important.

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Exterior glass walls also provide a window for the community to see into the spaces, and interior lighting after dark will show just how much is going on inside — programming, concerts and recitals.

“We want this to be a front door to the community, to be welcoming to the community,” Gier said. “Being near the center of things is a key feature.”

The new art museum, currently in the early planning stages, will place both buildings on the cusp of downtown southern expansion.

“This moves activity across Burlington (Street) and transforms the area,” said Sean O’Harrow, UI Museum of Art director. “Having 400 concerts in the music building alone — I can’t even describe what it’s going to be like.”

He said the Board of Regents still needs to review arrangements between the university and museum of art project developers, H+H Development Group of Iowa City and Mortenson Inc. That may happen in February. If all goes as planned, O’Harrow said the museum could be open by the 10th anniversary of the flood in 2018.

“We may be the final project in the flood recovery,” he noted.

As with the new Hancher, exterior work on the Voxman building will continue into the fall and winter, followed by interior finishing work.

Hancher construction is more than 85 percent complete, executive director Chuck Swanson said.

“People can see from the outside a lot of progress,” Swanson said, adding that the opening can’t come soon enough. “I feel like a little kid waiting for a birthday or Christmas.”

The Voxman building — named for longtime School of Music director Himie Voxman, who died in 2011 at age 99 — will unify a School of Music that has been scattered around campus and downtown since the floods destroyed the facility adjoining the Hancher complex, as well as the UI Museum of Art.

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Music classes, offices, rehearsals, recitals and concerts are now spread among University Capitol Centre in Old Capitol Town Center, the Old Capitol building, the UI Communications Center, Becker Communication Studies Building, the former UI Museum of Art, Trinity Episcopal Church, Riverside Recital Hall and Clinton Street Music offices, to name a few.

The 107-year-old program now serves 425 music majors as well as 2,000 other non-majors who enroll in music classes. The new building is designed to handle 500 music majors.

“We’re not looking to get a lot bigger,” Gier said. “We’re looking to get a lot better.”

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