Boise State Celebrates Grand Opening of Center for the Visual Arts

The new building invigorates the University’s commitment to the arts and reinforces a growing cultural corridor along Capitol Boulevard.

Boise State University celebrated the Grand Opening of the Center for the Visual Arts on its flagship campus in Boise, Idaho, October 3, 2019, fulfilling a strategic vision to create a world-class destination arts center serving students and community members regionally and nationally.

Designed by HGA of Minneapolis and Lombard / Conrad Architects of Boise, Idaho, the Center for the Visual Arts is prominently located on the west side of campus on Capitol Boulevard overlooking the Boise River and downtown skyline, positioned as a campus gateway that connects with the Idaho State Capitol Building, Historic Boise Depot, and City’s many surrounding civic and cultural buildings.

A Cultural Link

From the outset, the University envisioned the Center for the Visual Arts as a pivotal cultural link between the campus and the City to elevate its regional and national profile. Consolidating the 2D and 3D visual arts disciplines once scattered throughout campus, the design welcomes students as they head to class and community members as they pass along Capitol Boulevard.

“The arts are vital to University and City’s success,” said Steven Dwyer, AIA, LEED AP BD+C, Design Principal at HGA. “As a gateway building, the architecturally striking Center for the Visual Arts makes a bold statement about the importance of arts on campus and their place within the larger community. With the University’s existing strengths in STEM, business administration and performing arts, the building reinforces a renewed commitment to interdisciplinary learning and student engagement. The building is a place for everyone across campus and the City of Boise to experience the creative process.”

Planning the Arts Center

The design evolved from a highly interactive pre-design and planning process involving visual arts professors, administrators, arts patrons, student representatives, and other campus and community stakeholders who shared visions for the building. Early conceptual designs evolved through subsequent iterations into a sculptural architectural expression that met the University’s vision for a world-class destination on par with facilities at leading institutions.

“In addition to its external beauty, the building features a world-class environment for safe studio art instruction and production,” said Richard Young, Professor of Art and Past Chair of the Department of Art, Design & Visual Studies at Boise State University. “The building embodies a nexus of creativity, connection to the community, and the vitality of visual arts education.”

Curriculum-Focused Program

The 97,600 square-foot building includes a five-story studio, classrooms, and office wing; a two-story exhibition gallery wing; and a two-story atrium that connects the two wings.

Studios – The five-story north wing contains artist studios, work spaces, and classrooms on four levels. The first level includes ceramics and sculpture suites with common access to an exterior work yard and ceramics kiln. The second level accommodates printmaking and metal work; the third level photography, graphic arts, and art history; and the fourth level drawing, painting, and art foundations.

Drawing studios feature movable partitions resembling gallery walls to increase flexible vertical surfaces for large-scale drawings. Each of the four instructional floors include a critique space within the angular nose of building and a lounge space at the opposite end of the floor. The fifth level discretely hides the heavy mechanical and exhausts systems behind a raised parapet and adjacent to a fully enclosed mechanical space with elevator access.

Boise State University Center for the Visual Arts interior 2

Gallery – The two-story art gallery wing meets national standards for professional traveling exhibits and periodic student shows. Prominently opening into the Lobby Commons, the World Museum is a permanent exhibit, which has augmented, and virtual reality technology paired with floor-to-ceiling touch screens to digitally immerse students with art collections from around the world.

Lobby – Finally, the two-story light-filled Lobby Commons includes expansive windows facing Capitol Boulevard and the campus, a circular skylight, and a second-level balcony, offering a central gathering space for the campus and community.

Expressive Materials

Realizing the planning committee’s vision for a gateway to the arts, the Center for the Visual Arts is expressive and artful, combining materials, angles, and forms to visually engage students and passersby.

The angular studio wing is clad in ¼-inch limestone veneer on flexible honeycomb panels that allow the façade to curve with the building form, while floor-to-ceiling windows provide artist studios evenly-diffused northerly light and views to the mountainous landscape beyond.

The exhibition gallery features visually dynamic blue stainless-steel tiles with a variegated surface that reflects the changing daylight from hour to hour and season to season.

The Lobby Commons features full-height windows that reinforce the building’s transparent connection between the campus and community—a welcoming beacon when lit at night.


The site, massing, and building orientation focus on a public gateway presence, the theme of “putting the arts on display” and sustainability. The building is intended to frame a distinct arts landscape by HGA and The Land Group on each side of the Lobby Commons.

Boise State University Center for the Visual Arts exterior 6

A West Arts Court serves as an important foreground to the lobby and a programmatic extension of the adjacent art gallery. A dedicated area is reserved for a future landscape berm, lighting, and sculpture. An East Arts Court is comprised of a tapestry of varied plantings, gathering areas and locations for sculpture. Paths radiate out from the lobby entrance to multiple points on campus.

In addition, the north side includes exterior access and work areas for the Ceramics and Sculpture Suites on the ground level.

Sustainable Outlook

At their foundation, Visual Arts buildings are industrial machines designed for the creative manufacture of art, requiring energy-intensive, code-compliant exhaust systems to ensure clean indoor environments specific to each discipline.

As such, HGA and Musgrove Engineering included several mechanical measures that reduce overall energy consumption, including air energy recovery units (ERUs) that transfer 70 percent of the available exhaust energy into the makeup air, HVAC system that connects with the City of Boise’s geothermal hot water system paired with high-efficiency gas-fired supplemental hot water boilers, chilled beams in classrooms and offices that reduce the fan energy by 80 percent, low-flow fixtures, and sensor-operated faucets.

Additionally, building orientation and high-performance windows maximize solar benefits. For instance, the artist studios face north to reduce solar gain through the expansive glazing and provide evenly diffused light for working. Windows in the west-facing limestone nose are recessed to form a natural sun shade that bounces more diffused sunlight into the interior. And high-performance frits on south-facing windows reduce solar gain into faculty offices, corridors, and collaboration spaces.

Early Praise

Even before the Grand Opening, the Center for the Visual Arts generated national attention.

During a campus visit in August 2019, Mary Anne Carter, Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, said in an interview with Boise State Public Radio that the Center for the Visual Arts is “comparable to any major new arts facility—I would say in the world. It is world class.”

She further stated that the building will become “the flagship by which everyone else is going to measure. Everyone is going to come here as they are building out. It is really that good and that unique. I think it is going to be great for the University.”


Architects: HGALombard / Conrad Architects, P.C.

Structural Engineer: KPFF Consulting Engineers, Inc.

Mechanical Engineer: Musgrove Engineering, P.A.

Civil Engineer/Landscape Architect: The Land Group

Electrical Engineer: Eidam & Associates Consulting Engineers

AV Consultant: JSN Enterprises LLC