architecture: Studio Gang
landscape design: SCAPE
associate architect: Polk Stanley Wilcox Architects
structural engineer: Thornton Tomasetti
civil engineer: McClelland Consulting Engineers
MEP/FP engineer: dbHMS
acoustical, theatrical, and AV designer: Arup
cost estimator: Venue Consulting
lighting designer: Licht Kunst Licht
project manager: Ascent
construction manager, general contractor: Nabholz, Pepper, Doyne
photography: Iwan Baan, Tim Hursley
visualizations: courtesy Studio Gang and SCAPE
Creating a vibrant space for social interaction, education, and appreciation for the arts, Studio Gang’s design for the Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts transforms this premier cultural institution into a signature civic asset.
Working from the inside out, the design—which includes both new construction and renovations—clarifies the organization of the building’s interior while also extending AMFA’s presence into historic MacArthur Park, opening the museum to the city of Little Rock and beckoning the public within.
AMFA’s eight architectural additions have resulted in a motley collection of fortress-like spaces that lack a holistic architectural identity, clear visitor circulation, and visibility to the city and the park of which the museum is a part. Suffering from inefficient operational adjacencies, the museum’s three impressive programs—a renowned collection of works on paper, the Museum School, and the Children’s Theatre—are disconnected from each other and their surroundings, making them difficult for visitors to locate and experience.
Conceived as a stem that blossoms to the north and south and anchored by major new visitor amenities, the design mediates between the museum’s existing architecture to define a new public gallery and gathering space that provides an unprecedented axis of connectivity linking the museum’s disparate programs and also serves as a focal point for extensive renovations that help AMFA meet its growing visitor needs.
Inviting visitors to experience anew the building’s original 1937 façade, the excavation of the existing building allows for visual clarity and transparency and reveals expanded spaces for performance, exhibition, and art making. Extensive renovations transform the museum, adding new dedicated programs that demonstrate best practices for art exhibition, conservation, and research, while the new architecture’s pleated, thin-plate structure signals a strong and reenergized visual identity.
Major new amenities anchor the architecture at both the north and south entrances. At the north end, a new Cultural Living Room acts as a flexible community space for gathering, respite, and contemplation as well as special events. To the south, an outdoor dining pavilion replaces the existing asphalt parking lot, opening the building to the park for the first time. Developed with SCAPE, the design reinforces AMFA’s ambition to become a true museum in a park, adding more than 2,200 linear feet of new paths and trails and 250 new trees, which will merge over time with the existing canopy to form a parkland forest, while the architecture’s pleats collect stormwater to feed new gardens and native perennial meadows. Altogether the design embodies the museum’s commitment to its community and its environs, strengthening its cultural and educational offerings and connecting visitors to each other, art, nature, and the city.
The Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts (AMFA) in Little Rock has undergone a major transformation of its building and grounds in Little Rock. Through revitalizing existing structures and uniting them with a “blossoming” central addition, Studio Gang’s design creates a 133,000-square-foot building that embraces the surrounding city and park and establishes a bold new architectural identity for AMFA.
The Museum’s historic 1937 Art Deco façade is returned to its original role as the building’s north entrance. The central addition, with its organic curves and pleated roof, creates a complementary, park-side entrance at the south and establishes a light-filled, connective space that intuitively guides guests into AMFA’s Harriet and Warren Stephens Galleries, Windgate Art School, Performing Arts Theater, Cultural Living Room, Museum Store, and restaurant.
The design also treats architecture and landscape as intrinsically linked. SCAPE’s 11-acre landscape extends the Museum experience into the park, bringing a biodiverse array of new plantings that provide shade and beauty for indoor/outdoor social spaces, as well as new paths that allow the public to enjoy nature and view outdoor sculptures.
The newly transformed Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts in Little Rock, US, is ready to open to the public on April 22, 2023. Designed by architecture practice Studio Gang in collaboration with Polk Stanley Wilcox and landscape architecture and urban design practice SCAPE, The Museum’s new architectural identity aims to signify its role as a leading arts institution in the region. One of the Museum’s most recognizable features, the folded plate concrete roof, is now complete. The new roofline spans the length of the building, connecting the new construction and the renovated spaces to create a coherent architectural character for the cultural institution.
For Studio Gang, the design process started with the study of the original 1937 building and its eight additions. The studio’s approach was based on the desire to create unity and coherence between the various structures, building systems, and programs while emphasizing the significant historical elements. This was achieved by creating a new central spine that runs the length of the museum and connects the programming spaces and the surrounding landscape. An added advantage is that this new element allows natural light to enter the building, and it extends sightlines, thus creating new opportunities for engagement and discovery for the museum’s visitors. The pleated roof of this new addition also gives the museum a distinctive and recognizable image.
From the early stages of the project, Studio Gang has a vision for “a museum in a park”, recognizing that clarified circulation throughout the building and into the park would reinvigorate the museum and allow it to flourish. By the 2010s, some of the additions to the original building, necessary for the museum’s growing collection, were closing off the institution from the neighborhood and the nearby park. The designers understood that these relationships were important and chose to re-establish them. The new building is situated within 11 acres of public landscape designed by SCAPE and inspired by the native ecologies of Arkansas.
Following their ethos to “start with what’s there,” Studio Gang’s design for the new Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts excavates the historic, Art Deco façade of the original museum to make it the new north entrance. Originally designed by architect H. Ray Burks, the 1937 building featured a limestone façade designed by Little Rock artist Benjamin D. Brantley and features two carved relief figures, Painting and Sculpture personified. The new building reveals the façade to the outside for the first time since 1982. Alongside new construction, Studio Gang’s design reuses and adapts various previous structures and materials, while renovating existing spaces to support the Museum’s programming aspirations.
Founded and led by Jeanne Gang, Studio Gang is an architecture and urban design practice headquartered in Chicago, with offices in New York, San Francisco, and Paris. Studio Gang is currently designing cultural and civic projects across the Americas, including an expansion to the American Museum of Natural History in New York, a new Center in Paris for the University of Chicago, a new United States Embassy in Brasilia, and the Global Terminal at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago.
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