Stunning New Wooden Design & Research Center at the University of Arkansas

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The future of timber is looking bright indeed, as illustrated by a stunning new building at the University of Arkansas. The Anthony Timberlands Center for Design and Materials Innovation will be an extension of the Jay Jones School and a key part of the university’s Windgate Art and Design District. It will house the school’s expanding design-build program and fabrication technologies laboratories and serve as the new home to its emerging graduate program in timber and wood design.

The vision by Grafton Architects was selected above proposals by big names like Shigeru Ban Architects and Dorte Mandrup Arkitekter in a design competition funded in part by a grant from the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities. The jury said it “presents the most compelling landscaping plan, demonstrating possibilities for integrating the architecture and art programs in the Windgate Art and Design district.”

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“The building fulfill its designers’ ambition of being a ‘storybook of timber’… in syncing material use to program, this approach offers students first-hand opportunities to learn about timber. The wood structures are educational in an experiential and poetic manner. The dramatically soaring, rhythmical space is an architectural abstraction of a sensorially rich forest condition.”

Based in the U.K., Grafton Architects was founded by Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara, both of whom have been selected as 2020 Pritzker Prize Laureates, the highest honor in architecture. Of the selection of their proposal, they say, “we are very excited about building our first building in the United States in Fayetteville, Arkansas. This building helps us think about the future optimistically, where the use of timber with all its possibilities becomes real, useful and hopefully loved.”

Grafton Architects Anthony Timberlands Center model

Farrell says the basic idea of the new Anthony Timberlands Center is that the building itself is a “storybook of timber.” It features a cascading roof that responds to the local climate, capturing natural light.

“We want people to experience the versatility of timber, both as the structural ‘bones’ and the enclosing ‘skin’ of this new building. The building itself is a teaching tool, displaying the strength, color, grain, texture and beauty of the various timbers used.”