The alchemist of light

Every morning, around 7 am, he takes some brushes and watercolors and starts to trace the first image or feeling that comes to his mind. Unwittingly, the clarity of those spontaneous explorations confirms why the light turns into the iconic component of every space he conceives.

That same radiance also impregnates the interiors of the historic Hotel Bristol in Vienna, opened in 1892, where we have the opportunity to speak with the renowned architect Steven Holl (Bremerton, Washington. 1947).

Author of multiple large-scale projects that include museums, educational facilities, office design, housing and master planning, Holl’s structures wipe out any cliché or predictable style.

“Architecture is an art of endurance,” declares the American creator, named as the best architect in America by Time magazine in 2001 and awarded the prestigious Premium Imperiale Prize for Architecture in 2014. “The experience -phenomena- when you go into a building is the most important part. That is about execution, detail, material, light, and space.”

In the words of Holl, who recently visited the Austrian capital to give a lecture in the 20th edition of the Vienna Architecture Congress (Wiener Architektur Kongress), ideas do not have a scale. “I believe that this discipline changes the way we experience our life.”

“Architecture should be more when you go in it than when you look at it. That is the key, and it is not always achieved.”


Architecture. Music, poetry, and architecture are equally important to me, for the joy of living this life on Earth.

Design. I think that nowadays design is -unfortunately- slightly polluted by commercial enterprises. It does not have the ‘gravitas’ that it should have. Everything is driven by commodity and, sometimes, is very disturbing because of that.

Art. I love the relation between art and architecture. I have collaborated with many well-respected artists (e.g. Richard Artschwager Walter De Maria, James Turrell and Ai Weiwei). I think art is in a better state related to architecture today.

City. In my mind, there are two cities: New York and Rome. I love the skyscrapers and the possibility of future in N.Y., but I am also complete enamored of the melancholic and spatial energy of the Italian capital. Maybe I am anchored to Rome but live in New York.

Who inspires you? [deep sigh]… when I graduated in 1971, I had to learn by myself about Adolf Loos, Le Corbusier, Louis Khan and Luis Barragán. All these prominent figures have influenced me.

Written by Pablo Hurtado @pabloihurtado

Herning Museum of Contemporary Art (Denmark). Copyright by Iwan Baan


Cite de l’Ocean et du Surf (France). Copyright by Iwan Baan


The Nelson Atkins Museum of Art (USA). Copyright by Andy Ryan

Portrait. Copyright by Mark Heithoff

Interview Photos by Hadi Vasfi. A Persian photographer based in Vienna, Austria, who has found inspiration in each city he has lived, and who always thinks about matching architecture with music.