Emerging Voices winner modus studio has nearly completed a floating treehouse in the Garvan Woodland Gardens of their native Arkansas. The twisting timber Tree House rises between the oak and pine trees of the Evans Children’s Adventure Garden and is designed both to mimic the surrounding woods as well as to draw children back into nature. A soft opening for the Tree House this Saturday will cap several years of construction. Garvan Woodland Gardens is the University of Arkansas’s 210-acre botanical garden, and one of only eight public woodland gardens in the country. Modus is a frequent collaborator with the university, having most recently completed the transformation of the school’s sculpture studio. The Tree House is the first of three proposed for the woods, and modus took design cues from nature to create an arboreal play space that doubles as an educational station where visitors can learn about how trees grow. As visitors follow a suspended catwalk through the woods and the foliage recedes, visitors are gradually confronted with the Tree House’s mass. The curved Tree House reaches two stories at one end and tapers to a child-sized window at the other. The curvilinear plan, combined with the timber ribs that make up the tree house’s open structure, creates a biomorphic shape that references the expansion of tree rings. The screen created by the gaps in the scaffolding regulates light, creates unique vantage points for visitors at different parts of the tree house, and allows the building to further blend into the forest. The Tree House is rife with other biophilic touches. A timber staircase allows children to descend to the Root Plaza below, where they can experience the foliage from ground-level (or ascend up to the canopy from a trail). Inside, modus used their in-house fabrication shop to build a steel screen reminiscent of a decaying leaf, capping the tree house’s larger end while still allowing views out to the forest. Slices from native trees, bark, and other teaching tools inside the treehouse build on what modus calls the “theme of dendrology, the study of trees and wooded plants” to drive programming. The privately funded, $1.8 million project will hold its “soft” opening to the public this weekend as the landscaping underneath and some interior components are not fully installed yet. A full grand opening is expected for the fall. AN will update this article to include completed photos of the Tree House after its opening on June 30.
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The sculpture studio facility for the University of Arkansas, a design collaboration between Modus Studio and El Dorado Inc., is the first completed building for a new remote arts and design district for their campus. The project expands an existing pre-engineered metal building warehouse, through selective renovation and addition, into a simple, refined form. It provides natural daylight for studios inside and draws a connection to the context through the interplay of translucent and opaque materials.
The design teams at Modus Studio and El Dorado decided to keep the existing building structure and continue the original detailing. The building was stripped down to the bones and the same pre-engineered metal building profile was used to create the new addition. The project more than doubles the existing footprint of the pre-engineered warehouse on the east and, with exterior porches of structural steel on either side that allowed for a layer of customization within the otherwise standardized facade system. The material palette consists primarily of the same short-ribbed aluminum panel with variations in color and opacity. The majority of the structure is clad in solid aluminum panels with a white Kynar finish. The same panel, with a twenty-three-percent perforation, is applied at either end of the building to denote the two exterior porches. These open-air bays needed to be shaded while allowing light in the flexible spaces on the perimeter of the building. They provide a visual connection with the surrounding context and allow people to see in while passing on the street or nearby trail. Additionally, flat aluminum panels are used as a backdrop for the perforated facade at the exterior porches. The building continues the conversation of opacity and translucency into the design and detailing of the windows. Constructed with an aluminum frame, the windows use a translucent polycarbonate to filter light. The purpose of the polycarbonate is to wash the interior spaces with consistent daylight during the day and project interior light towards the exterior at night. The windows are not a part of the pre-engineered assembly and had to be detailed in a different way. The project team saw this as an opportunity to celebrate this connection and positioned the windows at the columns of the main structural frames. From the interior, this exposes the detailing of the pre-engineered system rather than hiding it. The moments where the materials meet each other were of particular significance to the design teams at Modus Studio and El Dorado. This can be seen in the way that the trim is treated around the entire building. The architects wanted the trim to always be made of the adjacent material, so that the wrapping of material continued on all surfaces without interruption. Additionally, the downspouts were located at panel joints to hide the small shadow line and continue the wrapping of the facade. Jody Verser, the project manager at Modus Studio, told AN in an interview, “In one particular area, on the northwest side of the building in the foundry, we had a concrete wall, an elevated concrete floor, a concrete slab on grade, structural steel, pre-engineered metal building frame, perforated panel, opaque panel, and a corner downspout, everything coming together at one spot.” It was a game of coordination between both project teams and the contractors to arrive at the right solution and continue that logic throughout the project.
The Architectural League of New York’s Emerging Voices award and lecture series highlights individuals and firms with distinct design “voices”, singling out those with the potential to go on to even greater heights. 2018 saw two rounds of judging; first by a panel of past Emerging Voices winners, and a second to pick the winners. The first-round jury included Virginia San Fratello, Sebastian Schmaling, Wonne Ickx, Lola Sheppard, Marcelo Spina, Carlos Jimenez, and Marlon Blackwell, as well as members of the second-round jury, Sunil Bald, Lisa Gray, Stella Betts, Jing Liu, Paul Makovsky, Tom Phifer, Chris Reed, and Billie Tsien. AN profiled all of the emerging voices firms in our February print issue. Modus Studio founder Chris Baribeau will deliver his lecture on March 1st, 2018, at the SVA Theatre in Manhattan. Modus Studio might have started in 2008 as a two-man operation in cofounder Chris Baribeau’s back office, but the firm’s expansion to 24 people and a full fabrication shop shouldn’t have come as a surprise. The office’s intensive focus on the surrounding Arkansas environment and their hands-on approach have drawn attention both inside and outside of the state. “A thinking–making philosophy really evolved out of our passions, from working through college, working on construction, working on fabrication,” explained Baribeau. “It set the tone for the rest of our professional work.” Modus is a frequent collaborator with the University of Arkansas and has designed for the school a pair of mass timber residence halls, an athletic area master plan, and, most recently, a sculpture studio— although the firm has realized nearly every type of project. Its single-family homes typically draw on the surrounding geographies and ecosystems to influence the final forms, as is the case with Van Huset on the Bluff, a stark cabin overlooking Beaver Lake, in northwest Arkansas. Educational work has a special place in the studio’s canon. Green Forest Middle School, Modus’s first project, was also the first school that either Baribeau or cofounder Josh Siebert had ever worked on. Having to leap into a new building typology meant engaging heavily with the community at every step of the school’s design and construction, an approach that has carried over to all of their projects afterward. Timber and sustainability are prominent through-lines in many of Modus’s built works, no matter the intended use. Working with timber allows the studio to harvest wood directly from the trees on-site, or if they’re not able to do so, connect with Arkansas’s timber industry. Even Modus’s Fayetteville office, a reclaimed warehouse clad in timber that was charred in the fabrication shop, is winning notice, as it was Arkansas’s only LEED Platinum– certified building in 2017. “We’re very connected to the natural world,” said Baribeau. “And being in the Ozarks, the language of the rugged mountains and valleys and rivers connects us to the outdoor world. We’re straddling this dynamic place that’s somewhere between the manmade and the natural world. Our buildings are about fitting into the landscape and drawing inspiration from the context around the site.” Modus views its location outside of the “major design cities” as a boon. Arkansas is in the process of rebuilding and infilling its urban centers, providing the studio an opportunity to experiment while allowing them to build their brand through projects that serve the community. While Modus has begun working on projects as far north as Illinois, Baribeau is most proud of the K–12 schools that the studio has designed for low-income, rural areas. “We’ve found, particularly in this region of Arkansas, how rural communities are really underserved in terms of good design. The hub of that community, their tax money, the local football team, all focuses around the public school. For us, the ongoing tilling of the soil is to raise the bar for rural communities."
[Editor’s Note: This the third in a three-part series documenting the winners of the AIA 2018 Honor Awards, which are broken down into three categories: architecture, interior architecture, and urban design. This list covers the regional and urban design awards, but additional segments spotlight winners in architecture and interior architecture.] The American Institute of Architects announced its 2018 recipients of the Institute Honor Awards January 12. The 17 winners were pulled from approximately 500 submissions from across the globe and only three regional and urban design projects took home the prize. The designs range from the double-award winning Chicago Riverwalk, to frameworks for dealing with sea level rise. In one way or another, this year's notable topic was living with water. The five-person jury that selected this year’s AIA Regional and Urban Design Honor Award winners included:
- Roger Schluntz, FAIA (Chair), School of Architecture and Planning, University of Mexico
- Lisa Chronister, AIA, City of Oklahoma City Planning Department
- Suzanne DiGeronimo, FAIA, DiGeronimo Architects
- Tim Griffin, AIA, Minnesota Design Center
- Gerry Tierney, AIA, Perkins+Will.
The University of Arkansas Fay Jones School of Architecture & Design will be the inaugural recipient of the annual el dorado Prize. The distinction is sponsored by the Kansas City–based architecture firm el dorado as part of its 20th anniversary. Awarded each winter, starting this year, the prize will work with a single university annually to identify high performing students. These students, entering into their final year of school, will be invited to interview for el dorado’s internship summer program. These paid internships will also include an additional stipend as a reward for academic excellence. Each year the prize will go to a different university, with faculty being asked to nominate students. Interns will be versed in the specific way in which el dorado runs its practice. This includes design build and cross-disciplinary design. The pick of Arkansas as the first recipient of the prize was an easy choice for David Dowell, principal at el dorado. “Longstanding relationships with the University of Arkansas faculty and alumni, including staff and collaborators, and a growing body of architectural work in Northwest Arkansas make this inaugural choice a natural one,” remarked Dowell in a press release. The el dorado prize joins in on a long tradition of professional offices running academic programs and scholarships. These include the PGAV Destinations recent support of Washington University’s Alberti Program and the prestigious SOM Prize. Peter MacKeith commented on the importance of the prize to the school, “The Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design is pleased to be the inaugural site for the el dorado Prize, an important summer internship program that will stimulate and recognize the excellence of professional architectural education in the Midwest region.”
Marlon Blackwell, principal of Marlon Blackwell Architects and distinguished professor and department head at the Fay Jones School of Architecture at the University of Arkansas, practices in Fayetteville, Arkansas, where the temptation to design according to a derivative vernacular—and the risk of descending into quaintness—is great. Blackwell seeks instead to operate in the space between the vernacular and the universal, to create buildings that are simultaneously both and neither. "What emerges is something that I like to call the strangely familiar," he said. "We're working with forms in a cultural context that have a first reading of being familiar, but on a second, third, or fourth reading are clearly transgressive to either the local typology or the vernacular. What we try to do is kind of de-typify things—it's really about trying to find or develop an idea about performative surfaces." When Blackwell, who will deliver the afternoon keynote address at next month's Facades+ Dallas conference, talks about "performative surfaces," he does not necessarily mean high-tech building skins. "What I'm really talking about is something that's both sensual and sensible," he said. Blackwell prefers a more commonsensical approach to performance. "It's like the chicken farmer," he explained. "Chicken farmers have figured out that if they orient their large chicken sheds so that the narrow part faces east and west, the chickens don't cook before their time." In Arkansas, even high-profile projects like his Vol Walker Hall and Steven L. Anderson Design Center require careful attention to costs. "Given the modest budgets here, most of what we have to achieve is passive," he said. "I'm trying to instill this into buildings that don't necessarily come with honorific programs: they're everyday sorts of buildings, so consequently they're modest in their application or execution, but they're very high in their aspiration." Blackwell's early passion for drawing resonates through his work today. "I grew up as a cartoonist, so everything I've ever conceived of artistically or architecturally has been conceived of as a visage—as a profile or a silhouette," he said. "I really think of the buildings that we make as figures in a place—as having a figural presence. They become the expressive character of a place, and that expressive character is achieved through things like the envelope, rather than trying to achieve expressive character merely through form. As a result, we're able to build things." Blackwell hopes his own career can serve as a positive lesson to Facades+ Dallas attendees. "I'd like them to walk away thinking: I can do that," he concluded. "Not everybody can be Renzo Piano. There's that everyday kind of work that we do—there's no reason the aspiration has to be any different." To learn more about Facades+ Dallas or to register, visit the conference website.
University of Arkansas addition celebrates the future with a contemporary rewrite of Neoclassicism.As head of the architecture department and distinguished professor at the University of Arkansas Fay Jones School of Architecture, Marlon Blackwell was uniquely qualified to oversee the renovation and expansion of the school's home, Vol Walker Hall. To unite the school's landscape architecture, architecture, and interior design departments under one roof for the first time, Blackwell's eponymous firm designed a contemporary west wing to mirror the east bar on the existing Beaux-Arts style building, constructed in the 1930s as the university library. But the Steven L. Anderson Design Center—which tied for Building of the Year in AN's 2014 Best of Design Awards—is more than a container for 37,000 square feet of new studio, seminar, and office space. It is also a teaching tool, a lesson in the evolution of architectural technology writ in concrete, limestone, glass, steel, and zinc. "Our strategy was to create a counterweight to the existing building," explained Blackwell. Rather than a layered steel-frame construction, Marlon Blackwell Architect opted for a post-tensioned concrete structure to convey a sense of mass and volume. "We also wanted to demonstrate what you can do with new technology like post-tensioned concrete, such as introducing a cantilever and introducing a profile that has minimal columns in the spaces," he said. "All of that is a didactic tool for our students to contrast and compare with the load-bearing technology of the existing structure." The exterior of the Steven L. Anderson Design Center also reflects on changes to architectural practice during the last 80 years. "We really wanted to develop a strong profile of the building, in contrast to Vol Walker Hall," said Blackwell. He describes the effect as a figure-ground reversal: where in the older structure the mass of the building is the ground and the windows and ornament act as figure, in the new wing the mass is the figure and the fenestration the ground. To create what Blackwell terms a "condition of resonance" between the Design Center and Vol Walker Hall, the architects engaged Clarkson Consulting to develop an architectural concrete to match the color of a local Arkansas limestone no longer available. They echoed the Indiana limestone on the older wing with panels sourced from a quarry only 50 miles from the original. But instead of grouting the limestone cladding on the new wing, Blackwell chose a limestone rain screen system from Stone Panels. "That allows us to go much thinner but much larger," he said. "Again, we're using the same materials but showing how the advancement of technology allows for a different expression of architecture." The defining feature of the Design Center is the more than 200-foot-long glass and steel curtain wall on the western facade. Knowing that the western exposure would provide the only source of natural light for the new wing, the architects worked to balance the need for light against the threat of solar gain. To complement the existing building, they chose a fascia steel curtain wall custom-fabricated by local company L&L Metal Fabrication. With curtain wall consultants Heitmann & Associates, Blackwell developed a brise soleil comprising 3/4-inch by 18-inch frit glass fins, angled to filter sunlight into the Design Center's 43-foot-deep studios. "What we like about it, too, is that it's one big window," said Blackwell. "It allows it to feel as if we've cut a section right through the building. At night the entire facade becomes a beacon, allowing for a nice interface between the school of architecture and the rest of the community." Other details, including the monolithic concrete pours designed to lighten the Design Center's connection to the ground, and zinc cladding used on the top floor to sharpen the profile of the main body, continue the dialogue between the new structure and its Neoclassical neighbor. "There are a lot of little things that give a tautness to the expression of the new addition, and give it its own identity," said Blackwell. "But at the same time, one of the things we were faithful to was trying to analyze and uncover units of measure and proportion on the old building, and apply that to ours." Perhaps more importantly, the building works as a design school—and Blackwell would know. "There's certainly contrast on the outside," he said. "But there's an almost resonant seamlessness on the inside."
Walmart has been trying to expand into cities like New York and Washington, D.C. for a while now sparking debate about big box retail in urban centers along the way. To find space, Walmart will likely have to abandon the supercenter in favor of a more petite space, but slimming down to a mere 3,500 square feet sounds pretty extreme. Billed as the smallest Walmart in the world, the new store opened last Friday and shares space in a new mixed-use building with boutiques and a froyo shop and shoulders right up to the sidewalk rather than the ubiquitous parking lot of traditional big-box retail. Packed into the store's 3,500 square feet is a full-service pharmacy, replacing a recently closed campus pharmacy and general goods and groceries. (That's only 2% the size of a typical 185,000 square foot Supercenter!) If this a model that could work in urban areas around the country? Advertising Age speculates that the Walmart on Campus store could be a sign for a leaner, meaner Walmart of the future, citing CEO Bill Simon's calls for testing out new varieties of small stores. Could you be running down to the corner Walmart in years to come? Designed by Herbert Lewis Kruse Blunck Architecture of Des Moines, Iowa and Amirmoez Foster Hailey Johnson Architects of Fayetteville, Arkansas, the new Garland Avenue Shops include the 30,000 square foot UA Bookstore along with 20,000 square feet of retail space, of which Walmart has taken 3,500. A slat-covered, 1,500 spot parking deck hovers above the retail space and a central courtyard with outdoor seating and bike racks faces away from the street. (More photos of the building on flickr.) [ Via Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space, photo by Walter Lang. ]