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by STIRworldPublished on : May 06, 2023
Does cultural and civic architecture have an obligation to become a palimpsest uniting the site and building's history, to engage with nature and its context?
Studio Gang has completed their anticipated rehaul for the Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts (AMFA) in Little Rock, United States, replete with a crown-like, folded concrete canopy, a light-filled atrium, and an all-embracing renovation resulting in a vibrant space for social interaction, education, and appreciation for the arts, transforming a 'premier cultural institution into a signature civic asset.' The fresh, ebullient design amalgamates eight previous structures of the museum complex since its inception in 1937, all realised in a horde of architectural styles, which occasioned the beloved museum becoming a jigsaw puzzle of sorts, with a disparate, unnavigable programme.
"Working from the inside out, the design—which includes both new construction and renovations—clarifies the organisation 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," shares the firm led by American architect Jeanne Gang.
The redesigned museum gains distinction with its new roofline, a flowing, folded plate concrete structure that blossoms out to the north and south, spanning the length of the new 12,356 sqm building, linking its fresh construction and renovated areas to establish AMFA's new identity. Each entrance is now fitted with prominent glass-enclosed spaces, welcoming visitors into the building, from MacArthur Park at the south and downtown Little Rock at the north. "The north courtyard entrance features a nod to the past in the renewed 1937 façade of the Museum of Fine Arts. On the south side of the building, the innovative roofline creates a luminous grand atrium that showcases the progression of the space and connects the museum's various programming areas," they continue.
According to the American architects, the eight architectural additions to the Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts' MacArthur Park building ensued in a deficiency of a 'holistic architectural identity,' a defined circulation, apart from appropriate visibility to the city and the park, which the museum's architecture is a part of. "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," the firm explains.
The cultural architecture is conceived as "a stem that blossoms to the north and south," while being anchored by major new visitor amenities. The museum's design thus mediates between its existing architecture to articulate a new, spatiotemporal public gallery and gathering space that provides a unique, congruent axis connecting the museum's disparate programs. Furthermore, it grows into a focal point for extensive renovations, helping the Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts meet its growing visitor needs.
The American architect relayed her aim to create a 'connective tissue' that united the museum, which resulted in the new spine and energised spatiality. Clerestory windows underneath the central spine's snaking roof channels natural light into the museum, while making navigating the spaces easier and more intuitive. Inside, more than 6,000 plywood strips are suspended individually from the roof, injecting warmth by diffusing light and interacting with the museum's simple interiors.
The excavation of the existing building invites visitors to experience anew its original 1937 facade design, in tandem with establishing visual clarity and transparency, revealing expanded spaces for performance, exhibition, and art making. The four-year-long extensive renovation by Studio Gang transforms the museum vis a vis its added dedicated programs that demonstrate optimised areas for art exhibitions, conservation, and research, while the new architecture's pleated, thin-plate structure "signals a strong and re-energised visual identity," shares the architecture and urban design practice headquartered in Chicago, with offices in New York, San Francisco and Paris.
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. – Jeanne Gang, founder and leader, Studio Gang
Representing the institution's proud 80-year legacy, the historic façade plays a prominent role in the MacArthur Park building's fresh identity. "Revealing this important piece of historic architecture is a striking symbol of what we hope to accomplish through a reimaged Arts Center. The Arkansas Arts Center will be the cultural beacon for the region and a source of pride that reflects who we are as a people and who we aspire to be: an Arkansas Arts Center that embraces both our history and our future," said the museum's Executive Director, Victoria Ramirez.
Studio Gang retained as much of the original structure as possible, as a nod to sustainability, editing and excavating older elements to fashion a new, more succinctly connected museum space. Areas such as the theatre, lecture hall, and art school were refurbished, apart from adding new galleries atop the ones before, a restaurant, and a variety of support areas.
"Beyond revealing the 1937 façade, Studio Gang and (landscape architect) SCAPE's design for the reimagined AMFA lends a highly visible architectural identity to the space, reorganising and ordering the current program and architectural envelope, Studio Gang has designed a pleated, organic architecture that connects the new north-facing city entrance with the new glass pavilion and south-facing park entrance to create an open axis public gallery through the building, connecting the program components of the Arts Center. Drawing inspiration from Little Rock's unique regional ecologies – including the banks of Fourche Creek, the bluffs of Emerald Park, and the agrarian landscapes of the Mississippi Delta – SCAPE's landscape design features inviting outdoor spaces that contribute to the AAC's role as a cultural beacon for Arkansas," the museum reveals.
The new major amenities also anchor the American 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, apart from special events—towards the south, an outdoor dining pavilion replaces the existing asphalt parking lot, opening up the community 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," concludes Studio Gang.
The new Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts engages with its relationship to its own stories, nature and its context, in tandem with preserving its own history. It leads with an example of what museum buildings and complexes can achieve through careful rehauls, elevated into a congregational structure of beauty and efficient spaces, brought alive with the interplay of light, space, proportions and form.
Name: Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts
Location: Little Rock, Arkansas, United States
Area: 12,356 sqm (of new construction and renovation)
Year of completion: 2023
Client: Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts
Architect: Studio Gang
Design team: Interior designer / landscape designer / any other consultants
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