Nelsons-Atkins Bloch

Steven Holl's design for the Bloch Building addition to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, MO has seen its fair share of controversey, long before its 2007 completion date. While these exterior photographs probably won't quiet any skeptics, they should give people a better idea of what to expect come completion.

These were sent to me by my old classmate Jeff who currently resides in Kansas City, though we don't know the author of these photos. If that's you, let me know and I'll give you credit here.

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Update 01.12: In response to KevinS's question/comment, the answer appears to be "yes...and no":

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  1. Controversial, yes. Beautiful, yes. I can't wait for the addition to open. Kansas City is going to be a new presence on the architectural map in a couple of years. Big, big projects happening here!

  2. If I remember correctly, the controversy was around people feeling that the building as built was not turning out like the competetion images. ie. Like glowing light boxes.

    From the night time images, it seems like the building is precisely as it was represented. It looks beautiful.

  3. Yes, the sandblasted channel glass during the day tends to have a dull, opaque appearance (except sometimes at corners where sunlight passes through). At night, obviously it glows. Also, obviously, this nighttime condition was represented in publicity images. I think it's understandable that locals are concerned, but they will likely come around once the building is open.

  4. Does the interior glow as nicely during the day as the exterior glows at night?

  5. i belive this is going to be a great project to get kansas city on the map for more contemporary building design. the city is still a bit conservative in its tastes, but there are many projects that are in process/construction that will help to change that.

  6. The Nelson-Atkins design isn't even in the same league as the de Young Museum ( )
    I live in KC and I'm far from conservative in my taste for design.

    The Nelson-Atkins addition is't what it could have been - and should be - especially for the amount of time and money invested. I was at BNIM during the entire time the drawings where in-house. I've seen every working drawing, every water color, every model, and every rendering (at least those that made it to KC). I toured the project about 3 months ago and I do believe the interior spaces with be absolutely phenomenal - but the exterior of the building has ruined the prospect of it ever amounting to a world class project. Don't get me wrong the critics will love it and I think it has some really nice moments - but I don't believe this project was a priority for Steven Holl (and his right-hand man Chris McVoy apparently couldn't handle it alone).

    Holl was absolutely spot on in conceiving the addition "conceptually". An underground scheme is really the only way to graciously add on to this building. There's however an unfortunate reality to the design competition. Holl thought that the slope of the site would accommodate the design better than it did (and apparently it was too late to resolve it - in late schematics - when the topo and soil boring were done). Soon everyone in KC will see that what was intended to be an underground addition will in reality be a series of tacky board form concrete retaining walls and landscaped terraces along the edge of a historic and upscale, neighborhood. It's all been relatively well hidden from public sight by the construction fencing thus far - but it's starting to raise it's ugly head over the top of the fence.

    I suppose a museum is really about the art though. I think the interior is a fantastic piece of artwork in it's own right but like so many mesuems today I unfortunately don't think it's going to be a very good place to hang art (perhaps it will just be a really big sculpture gallery?). The interior spaces do have a fantastic glowing quality created by the exterior channel glass. It should - there was an unheard of amount of time and energy that went into researching and testing the channel glass and the inner capillary system (by Okalux). Conversely the glass channels on the exterior of the building have a dull effect in the daylight that makes them look like cheap, sheet metal wall panels (only without the added drama achieved by oil canning) -- and worse yet for some reason no one could get the composition or proportions for the horizontal aluminum breaks in the channels to look nice (where's the attention to detail Steven? We deserved more involvement than your initial water colors!)

    I've seen this project from several blocks away to inches away; from 6 in the morning till midnight - and I'll be surprised if it's published with more than 2 or 3 photos of the exterior in the daylight (and we all know it will get published- this is Steven Holl we're talking about!). Expect to see lots of interior photos - and if the interior lighting of the glass lenses is ever resolved it will also look remarkable in the dark!

    The good news for Steven Holl is it will always be better than the two Moshe Sofdie projects underway in Kansas City... the bad news for KC is Holl has left us with one of his crappiest projects to date!

  7. WOW -

    As a former Kansas Citian who has been following this project very closely, matt's comments are the first negative comments that aren't just "oooh, it's stupid." His knowledge and discussion of specifics indicate some serious thought. Because of that, I worry about the overall exterior, especially the east facade (the concrete walls). I actually like the board form walls, but did not expect them to be so prominent.

    The Nelson updated their website with MANY new photos (Jan. 13)

    The Bloch building pic's do show fairly massive exterior walls. I just am hoping that they won't seem overwhelming.

    As to the glass, I think it will be alright. No question that it will be photographed mainly at night and in the magic hours of dawn and dusk. I was there in Sept. and Nov. and while somewhat flat at a distance, it positively shimmers up close.

    There are also pictures here -

    Also, much heated debate

  8. They have updated the Nelson website since I posted. More exterior with landscape shots and many more interior. Interior? Super.

  9. I will reserve comment regarding the Nelson-Atkins addition design for the day I experience the building in person. I would like to say, from my observations, as an internationally renowned architect gaining commissions across the globe, Holl’s buildings in every experience I have had unfolds into a series of disappointments. In brief, the concepts as pictured in books and watercolor I admit are poetic and moving, though once realized suffer from a lack of detail and typically are spatialy and proportionally clumsy and have a confused material dialog.

    Hopfully the Nelson-Atkins is a departure.

  10. this website keeps me well amused during working hours and offers new thoughts for my impending doom, sorry i meant thesis ... i hope you dont mind, but i have linked you in my blog for my friends to find you too

  11. The glowing custom channel glass at the Nelson-Atkins addition was created with LINIT channel glass distributed in North America by Bendheim Wall Systems and produced in Germany by Lamberts, The channel glass installed in KC is even more unusual in character than the channel glass installed on the center section of Higgins Hall at Pratt, designed by the firms of Steven Holl and Rogers Marvel. The light scattering ability of the LINIT glass is enhanced by Okapane, an acrylic insulating interlayer from Schott. Either the concept moves you or it doesn't. As for the execution of the concept, the building will not open until 2007 and since the interior lighting is not yet at a final stage, comments regarding the effects of interior lighting are premature. For other LINIT projects, go to and if you have questions about using LINIT channel glass for your distinctive projects, call Marc Fink at BWS, 800-221-7379.

  12. The photos on your blog are nice, and I have seen the almost moonlike glow after dark. They do not reflect the perspective from my car as I round the corners of the site daily, dreading the view, which for me is gut-wrenching. However, I would like to focus on more objective issues, such as:
    -the change from the plan, wherein the project would provide "lenses"-not a trailer-park motif (think the Clinton Library), and not translucent channel glass. There was no community buy-in of this change, or even any announcement until the construction was obvious.
    -The design would be remarkable in the suburbs, on the prairie, in the context of other contemporary buildings, and seen from a distance.
    -There is much talk of urban design, but we would not see this heart-of-the-city project in Chicago or New York. 21st-century projects are designed to draw the public in, but the new Nelson has eliminated the run-in-for-a quick-visit (even with a stroller or bad knees) horseshoe drive. The friendly gingko trees that provided art in every season? Gone. The sculpture garden, visible from Rockhill Road? Gone somewhere. And of course, the lovely concrete wall landscaping that shuts out thousands of people everyday- physically, visually and aurally- it looks to be here for generations. That green stuff is probably overrated, anyway.

    There. I hope I made a valid point(that there are legitimate drawbacks no one in the art field will own up to) without mentioning the beaux arts, or lifting the human condition, or industrial parks.
    Only add a prayer for the Nelson trustees, good stewards who probably haven't slept well in months, and the future trustees, who will have difficulty funding a capital project of this magnitude for many years.
    -from a passionate lover of great art and great architecture.

  13. I must admit that I was quite apprehensive about the Holl design as I saw the building slowly taking shape. I work for the Nelson and have had the opportunity to view the inside on two occasions (once in the very early stages and again about 6 months ago when the interior walls were going up.) My feelings about the building up until about three weeks ago were that the inside would be breathtaking and amazing, while the outside would take much more getting used to. However, this all changed with the recent re-opening of Rockhill Road. When I drove down the road and saw the glass walls elegantly protuding from the green landscape of the Kansas City Sculpture Park (which officially opens in September), I actually had goosebumps. Now, I firmly believe that Steven Holl's design is brilliant, innovative, and beautiful. The controversey surrounding this project is a testament to the fact that no project should be judged before completion. Everyone who visits the Nelson-Atkins next year to witness this magnificent building for themselves is in for an amazing experience.

  14. As someone who had a close association to Holl at the time that this project was going through DD, I can say that he did pay attention to it—as much as he could, given that he has a busy practice. He was involved in all of the design decisions and internal meetings.

    But there was also quite a bit of internal wrangling about how to ghet the budget to meet the eloquent original vision for the project. This is something that high-design architects always face: they win competitions based on beautiful ideas, but then clients can't admit that those beautiful ideas will cost more than they'd hoped to spend. The channel-glass wall on the N-A was indeed expensive, but it could have been more true to the renderings with additional expense. Any failure is not Holl's alone...the project had a client, and a builder, and fundraisers.

    By the way, no building is a facsimile of its competition renderings. Have you seen the facade of the new Walker? Nothing like the original crinkled depictions...

    One thing I will say about Holl's office, however, is that the project manager and project architects working on a given project have a HUGE effect on whether the thing turns out well or not. Holl has good and bad buildings. Some of that is due to him; some is due to who else was involved.

  15. What is all this talk of failure? I think that it will be amazing. Every time I am in KC I visit the N-A and am a bit obsessive about following the progress of the addition.

    Unlike Martha, I think one of the more successful outcomes of the addition is what has happened to the north entrance. Lens 1 and the new entrance plaza, as well as the cleaning of the stone, have created a truly monumental public space. I also am excited about the new additions to the KC Sculpture Park, which seems to have increased in numbers of works and visibility. The massing of the lenses is truly fine.

    The interiors really do look magical. I hope that they are as awe-inspiring in person as in photos.

    I am optimistic that the new galleries will provide an attractive and effective space to view art. Walking through the re-hung and re-imagined galleries of the N-A building has certainly been hugely satisfiying.

    I think this project has reinvigorated the Nelson and I for one am quite excited to see the project finally realized.

  16. I just wanted to leave a link to a series of interior photos.

    I agree that the exterior probably did not come together as well as it could have. The building really doesn't seem to be underground so much as it seems just covered with ground. These photos show where it is going to shine, on the interior!

  17. Holl's Bloch addition to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City MO is a grotesque growth on a stately facade.
    The irritation increases as the sun sets and these dumpsters illuminate and glow obfuscating the elegant, imposing and stately original structure.
    Hopefully this bacterium is an illusion or tongue-in-cheek prank by a freshman art class. I do believe (as Dorothy believed she would return to her Kansas home) that KCMO's sanitation department will soon remove these enormous glow-in-the-dark containers to transport them to a construction site where they can fulfill their purpose for years to come.


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