Construction on the addition and renovation to the Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts (AMFA) is nearly complete as the Little Rock institution prepares to reopen on April 22, 2023. Designed by Studio Gang, the intervention brings cohesion to the museum’s many disparate structures, added over the years to the original 1937 building in the city’s MacArthur Park. The signature element of the addition is a sinuous central spine, known as The Blossom, whose triple-height atrium allows for a seamless flow of people and art through the museum, and whose glass enclosure offers more engagement with the surrounding park. The sweeping curves and undulating surface of its ceiling are made up of individually-suspended wood slats hung in a linear pattern. The museum’s historic Art Deco facade, long hidden, is now revealed and returned to its original role as the building’s north entrance.
(1) Former President Bill Clinton giving remarks; (2) Atrium ceiling detail. Photos © (1) Luis Zepeda; (2) Timothy Hursley
“I love everything about the design,” said former president Bill Clinton at an event in New York to announce the opening exhibitions. MacArthur Park is located just one mile from the Governor’s Mansion, and Clinton, who won his first bid for Arkansas governor in 1978, and his family were frequent visitors to AMFA. “It was always a beautiful place, even when it didn’t have such a beautiful house.”
AMFA, which was founded by a group of women in 1914 as the Fine Arts Club of Arkansas, boasts a women-led design team that includes Jeanne Gang, along with Studio Gang design principal and partner Juliane Wolf and senior project leader Angela Peckham; Cindy Pruitt, principal at Polk Stanley Wilcox, the associate architect; and Kate Orff, founding principal of SCAPE Landscape Architecture.
SCAPE’s 11-acre landscape plan features 2,200 linear feet of new walking paths, outdoor sculpture, and curving, sculptural benches that connect the architecture and landscape throughout the northern and southern entrance plazas. The architecture incorporates many sustainable features like radiant heating and cooling, and self-shading of The Blossom’s deep roof overhangs. The building is targeting LEED Silver, another aspect of the design former president Clinton highlighted, noting that his presidential center, also in Little Rock and designed by the late James Polshek, was the first federal building to receive a LEED Platinum rating.