Page D1.1 . 01 February 2012                     
ArchitectureWeek - Design Department
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Crystal Bridges Museum - Safdie in Arkansas

by Michael Cockram

For those familiar with the remote and quiet beauty of the Ozarks of Northwest Arkansas, the sudden appearance of the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville seems somewhat miraculous.

There had been, of course, much buzz leading up to the opening, but nothing could quite prepare the visitor for the arrival and the experience of peering down into a narrow ravine and seeing, some 30 feet (nine meters) below, a village of swirling forms set around a mirrored pond.

Architect Moshe Safdie placed the buildings at the bottom of the ravine to take advantage of the water and to preserve the mature trees that grew on the high ground. The overall effect is stunning.

The central conceit of the scheme wraps the galleries, set up as a series of pavilions, around a pond constructed by damming a small creek. The main galleries flank the water on the east and west sides and have concave roofs that sweep down toward the pond. The two glass-walled bridges, with their vaulted roofs, span the pond and connect the main galleries.

Adapting Influences

The device of damming and bridging the creek grew out of Safdie's visit to the nearby childhood home of the museum's benefactor, Walmart heiress Alice Walton.

"I saw that house and how Fay Jones had dammed the water and created a little pool," Safdie told ArchitectureWeek. "Once I went into the ravine, I immediately thought that the way to capture the spirit of the place is to dam the stream and create large bodies of water and then build around them."   >>>

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With most of its buildings nestled in a ravine, the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, in Bentonville, Arkansas, offers visitors a minimal building profile on its main approach.
Photo: © Timothy Hursley Extra Large Image

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The entry sequence to the Crystal Bridges Museum begins with a view of the complex from above. Elevators convey visitors from the upper edge of the ravine down to the main building entrance.
Photo: Michael Cockram Extra Large Image

 

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