A Story Book of Timber

John Hill
20. March 2020
Image courtesy of Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design, University of Arkansas / Grafton Architects

Grafton Architects' competition-winning design for the planned Anthony Timberlands Center for Design and Materials Innovation in Fayetteville, Arkansas, is conceptualized as a Story Book of Timber: a teaching tool for future students at the Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design to learn about timber and wood design.

The selection of Dublin's Grafton Architects was formally approved by the University of Arkansas Board of Trustees yesterday, a couple weeks after Grafton founders Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara were named laureates of the 2020 Pritzker Architecture Prize

Working with Fayetteville's Modus Studio, Grafton bested five other teams in a two-stage competition with an impressive list of finalists: Dorte Mandrup A/S from Copenhagen; Kennedy & Violich Architecture from Boston; LEVER Architecture from Portland, Oregon; Shigeru Ban Architects from Tokyo; and WT/GO Architecture (the newly established partnership of Waugh Thistleton Architects and Gray Organschi Architecture) from New Haven, Connecticut.

Image courtesy of Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design, University of Arkansas / Grafton Architects

Also impressive was the jury — more accurately, "external evaluation team" — that worked with a campus review committee to select the winner; the former was made up of Toshiko Mori, Tod Williams, and Juhani Pallasmaa. They commended the winning design's combination of "valid pragmatic ideas with a poetic solution." Furthermore, they said the "simultaneously complex and simple" design will create "a memorable institutional landmark for the urban landscape of Fayetteville." 

Intended as the epicenter of the Fay Jones School's timber and wood design initiatives, the building will house the school's design-build program and fabrication labs and become the new home of the school's graduate program in timber and wood design.

Logically, a building focused on timber would be structured in mass timber and create its main expression through wood, as in the Story Book of Timber. "We want people to experience the versatility of timber," Farrelly explained, "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."

Image courtesy of Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design, University of Arkansas / Grafton Architects

The jury felt the storybook idea came across clearly in the winning design: "In synching 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."

While the presentations of the finalists took place early last month, before the COVID-19 crisis closed schools across the United States and elsewhere, today's announcement comes at a time of great uncertainty. Appropriately, the school can only say that the project's design is "scheduled to begin this summer." By then, hopefully some normalcy has returned to Arkansas and the rest of the world.

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