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Grafton wins Arkansas timber design school contest


Grafton Architects has won a competition to design a $16 million (£12.5 million) timber design and fabrication facility at the University of Arkansas in the United States

The practice beat bids by five other shortlisted teams: Waugh Thistleton Architects in collaboration with Connecticut-based Gray Organschi Architecture; Copenhagen’s Dorte Mandrup; Kennedy & Violich Architecture of Boston; LEVER Architecture from Portland, and Tokyo’s Shigeru Ban Architects.

Grafton’s win comes just weeks after its co-founders, Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara, won the 2020 Pritzker Prize.

The Dublin-based studio will design and deliver the Anthony Timberlands Center for Design and Materials Innovation for the university, which is in Fayetteville in the north-west of the southern US state. It will work in partnership with Fayetteville-based practice Modus  Studio. The project is set to start on site in May 2021 and complete in 2022.

Farrell and McNamara said: ‘This is fantastic news. 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.’

The competition is being partly funded by the US Forest Service and the US Endowment for Forestry and Communities. The centre is intended as a showcase for mass timber and wood product construction and the materials are expected to be drawn from forests and mills within the state.

The winning scheme – described as a ‘storybook of timber’ by the architects – is intended as a teaching tool, displaying the various strengths, colours, grains, and textures in the differing timbers of its structural ‘bones’ and the enclosing ‘skin’. It features a series of cascading roofs responding to the local climate and was praised by judges as both ‘pragmatic and poetic.’

The building will be an annexe to the existing Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design and will be located on the university’s new Windgate Art and Design District.

The school’s dean, Peter MacKeith, said: ‘As an accomplished, recognised women-led practice, Grafton Architects confirms for all our students that the design professions are equally theirs in which to find their identities and to realise their potentials.

‘Grafton’s partnership with Modus Studio, an alumni-led practice already experienced in wood design, detailing and construction, augurs well for the successful execution of this important project. This selection, in short, is a landmark day for our school, our university and our state.’

Carlton Owen, chief executive of the US Endowment for Forestry and Communities said: ‘The University of Arkansas has been a leader in showcasing all the benefits of mass timber architecture. We are looking forward to the results of a leading architectural university working with this year’s Pritzker Prize winners to take wood-based architecture to new heights.’

Six teams were shortlisted from 69 entries in November and were given until 31 January to draw up their proposals. The 4,650m² structure will feature classrooms, studios, seminar spaces, conference areas, faculty offices and residential spaces for visiting faculty members.

Concepts were evaluated a team featuring Toshiko Mori of Toshiko Mori Architects; Robert P Hubbard, professor of practice at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design; Tod Williams of Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects; and Juhani Pallasmaa of Juhani Pallasmaa Architects in Helsinki, Finland.

Waugh Thistleton’s entry was a collaboration with Connecticut-based Gray Organschi Architecture.

The shortlist


Readers' comments (3)

  • Both Grafton Architects and Dorte Mandrup showed up an innovative way of using timber. Grafton Architects are proposing some well tested geometry from previous projects in Milan and London with a different material. Looking forward to see further details of the external envelope and how the light go inside the building.

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  • Just a note on Fayetteville, AR. (I taught there as visiting exchange faculty from England briefly in the 1980s and still have a few contacts there). It is a lovely college town nestled in the wooded hills at the tail end of the Ozark mountain range. The wonderful legacy of Fay Jones is strong, but the University of Arkansas school of architecture has an excellent record of achievement that transcends this. But look at that horrible huge blank-walled building next to the winning design in the photosim! That is an urban crime of the highest order!

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  • For D Walters: assiduous scrutiny of Google maps leads to Lot 56D on Leroy Pond Drive, looking West.
    The offending windowless lump is the university's Basketball Performance Centre (but, to be fair, Grafton's rendering only represents the massing - the building isn't carved out of white styrofoam after all).

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