Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art

Tucked away in the hills of Arkansas, this project provided the opportunity to make a smooth transition from manmade to natural landscape.

Worked with Safdie Architects to help heal the edges and provide a smooth transition between the building and the wooded site.

Opened in 2011, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art is a passion project of the Walton family. A team of top-notch experts including world-renowned architect Moshe Safdie and Howell & Vancuren was assembled to create a space worthy of housing a collection spanning five centuries of American masterworks ranging from the Colonial era to the current day. This prestigious gallery boasts Norman Rockwell’s Rosie the Riveter and Andy Warhol’s Coca-Cola as part of its permanent collection.

Part of the mission of Crystal Bridges is to unite the power of art with the beauty of nature. Howell & Vancuren took this mission as a mandate to create an environment that allows visitors to continue experiencing the museum after they walk through the exit door. The true challenge was to do so in a way that appeared natural and undisturbed. The manmade structures are woven into the natural landscape making it seem as if the buildings had organically grown from the soil alongside the trees and shrubs.

Floor to ceiling glass in many of the museum spaces help museum visitors make the connection between the artwork and the beautiful site outside. The museum experience is extended into the natural space, with strategically placed sculptures by renowned artists throughout the campus. Concrete sidewalks and rustic paths provide access to the existing streams and waterfalls and the outdoor sculpture to expand the museum exhibit. The beautiful valley setting accommodates a variety of outdoor spaces ranging from large gathering and event spaces to small contemplative spaces, along with long vistas and tightly framed views. 

An extensive irrigation system was designed to keep the vast network of plant materials maintained and hydrated. Site runoff and two wells drilled on the property feed the lakes formed by placing weirs where the museum crossed Town Branch Creek, not only provide an aesthetic feature but also serve as the source for site irrigation.

An Honor award was granted by the Oklahoma Chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects for this project.

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