6 years since LR voters approved Restore Robinson project

On Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2013, voters of Little Rock overwhelmingly chose to renovate the historic Joseph Taylor Robinson Memorial Auditorium.

By a vote of 5,183 For and 1,800 Against, Little Rock citizens approved a plan to use a portion of the city’s existing 2 percent restaurant and hotel tax to repay bonds for a renovation of Robinson Center.  The campaign was chaired by businessman Charles Stewart, restaurateur Capi Peck and former LR Mayor Jim Dailey.

Robinson has long been a landmark in central Arkansas. Construction of the Joseph T. Robinson Memorial Auditorium began in 1938 (after a December 1937 groundbreaking under a deadline) and officially opened February 1940. The structure was a PWA (Public Works Administration) project, and is an excellent example of the Art Deco style architecture of the time. The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2007.

The facility is owned by the City of Little Rock and managed by the Little Rock Convention & Visitors Bureau.

The 1940 structure suffered from a wide array of deficiencies, including stage loading and unloading, stage size, acoustical insufficiency, dressing room access and inadequate wing space within the performance hall. Also, structural, mechanical and electrical issues, public circulation and outdated conference center spaces existed within the facility.

Knowing the center is in need of major upgrades if the facility is to continue to serve central Arkansas into the future, the Little Rock Advertising and Promotion Commission (LRA&P) created a Robinson Center Concept Team in October 2011. The group was tasked with evaluating all aspects of the existing facility, researching user needs, proposing conceptual solutions and estimating the cost and construction schedule of the proposed additions and renovations. The concept team was led by Mike Steelman of SCM Architects, PLLC, and included representatives from WD&D Architects, Shuler Shook Theatre Planners, Jaffe-Holden Acoustical Consultants, TME Inc. Mechanical and Electrical Engineers, ECI Inc. Structural Engineers, McClelland Consulting Engineers Inc. Civil Engineers, East Harding Construction, HVS Consulting and Hunt Construction Group.

Additionally, stakeholder and tenant organizations representing the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra, Celebrity Attractions of Tulsa, Oklahoma and the Double Tree Hotel participated in the planning. The concept team findings were presented publicly on June 5, 2012.

On January 17, 2013 the LRA&P announced the selection of Polk Stanley Wilcox Architects, partnered with Ennead Architects, as the architectural and design team for the future renovations. On March 28, 2013 CDI Contractors LLC, partnered with Hunt Construction Group, were selected by LRA&P as the general contractors and construction managers.

On September 23, 2013 the final schematic renderings and cost estimates were presented publicly. The schematic plans depict major interior upgrades within the performance hall including additional volume to create a two-balcony setup, increased lobby space, acoustical improvements, theatrical upgrades, loading dock expansion, a larger stage area, and new dressing room facilities. Additionally, an enhanced modern ballroom and small conference center was unveiled. New technology, mechanical systems, and outdoor plaza spaces were included in the presentation.

Construction would begin on July 1, 2014.  It reopened on schedule and on budget on November 10, 2016.

Studio Gang was announced as Arkansas Arts Center architect on Dec. 6, 2016

On December 6, 2016, the Arkansas Arts Center (AAC) announced the selection of Studio Gang as design architect for its upcoming building project.

The five firms selected as finalists were Allied Works (Portland, Ore./New York), Shigeru Ban (New York/Paris/Tokyo, Japan), Studio Gang (Chicago/New York), Thomas Phifer (New York) and Snohetta (Oslo, Norway/New York/San Francisco).

Studio Gang was deemed the best fit for the project due to the firm’s elegant and smart approach to architecture, their understanding of the issues posed by the AAC’s current facility, their vision for the center as a cultural beacon for Central Arkansas and their commitment to sustainability and strength as urban planners.

Founded by MacArthur Fellow Jeanne Gang, Studio Gang is an award-winning architecture and urbanism practice based out of Chicago and New York. A recipient of the 2013 National Design Award, Jeanne Gang was also named the 2016 Archiitect of the Year by the Architectural Review and the firm was awarded the 2016 Architizer A+ award for Firm of the Year.

Studio Gang is recognized internationally for a design process that foregrounds the relationships between individuals, communities and environments. The firm has extensive knowledge in museum, theatre and artist studio spaces, with projects ranging from the Writers Theatre in Glencoe, Ill. to the Aqua Tower in Chicago to the expansion of the American Museum of Natural History in New York.

Since their selection, Studio Gang has brought on a variety of other members of the consultant team including:

In February 2018, Studio Gang released their first designs for the project.  On October 1, 2019, ground was broken and construction officially commenced.

Artober – Past, Present, Future

October is Arts and Humanities Month nationally and in Little Rock. Americans for the Arts has identified a different arts topic to be posted for each day in the month. Today looks at “Past, Present, Future.”

In keeping with that, today features images of the original 1937 Museum of Fine Arts, the 1963 version of the Arkansas Arts Center (the successor to the previous museum), the 2000 edition of the AAC, and the 2022 future look of the building.

The first building faced north onto 9th street.

The second building shifted the focus of the building. It faced south into MacArthur Park with the original entrance now being covered and part of the back of the building.

By 2000, the entrance had shifted to the west facing Commerce Street (though the 1963 entrance remained as a convenient entry for the Children’s Theatre and Museum School.

Finally, in 2022, the main entrance will return to the newly uncovered 1937 facade on the north.  It will be situated inside a courtyard framed by the new two story cultural living room at the historic crescent drive inside MacArthur Park. Standing in the center of the courtyard, in front of the historic facade will be Henry Moore’s Standing Figure Knife Edge (Large).  Studio Gang is the lead architect for this project with SCAPE serving as landscape architect.  Polk Stanley Wilcox is the associate architect.

Little Rock Look Back: Studio Gang announces plans for re-imagined Arkansas Arts Center

South entrance of new AAC

 

On February 27, 2018, the Arkansas Arts Center unveiled design plans for a renovation that would cost $70 million.

Construction for the museum is scheduled to begin later this year, and the center is expected to open in 2022. The upgrades, led by architecture firm Studio Gang, include new exhibition areas, a children’s theater space, an expanded educational facility, a glass-enclosed walkway, a garden, and the uncovering of the institution’s original facade from 1937. The $24 million budget increase, which does not include additional costs such as architectural or consultants’ fees, will be taken care of by private funds.

Officials originally explained that $50 million in private donations would complement general obligation bonds approved by Little Rock constituents for the expansion of the museum, whose artworks are owned by the nonprofit Arkansas Arts Center Foundation. “It’s a more expensive project than we originally thought it would be,” Studio Gang owner Jeanne Gang said. “You discover things. There’s a lot to it. There’s a lot of, also, ambition for the project to make it visible, to make it really bring the institution up to the next level.”

The building is currently made up of eight different structures that were added over a period of time to the city’s Museum of Fine Arts, built in 1937. Studio Gang’s aim is to offer a more coherent layout, as well as provide additional space for the AAC’s expansive public arts programming of classes, lectures and film showings.

Among the main features of the project is the introduction of a new axis, which will cut through the center of the building. It will lead from the northern entrance facing Crescent Drive to the 36-acre MacArthur Park on the southern side.

Four glazed volumes featuring curved walls and folded roofs will join up to form the axis – a new entrance will be placed at the front with walls angled to open up to the city, while three others will trail towards the park at the rear, ending with a double-height dining room.

Around 127,000 square feet of space will be added or revamped. The enhanced location will feature an edition of British sculptor Henry Moore’s Large Standing Figure: Knife Edge, 1976, which is currently on view in the city’s Union National Plaza.

Polk Stanley Wilcox is the associate architect and SCAPE is the landscape architect.  More members of the consulting team were added throughout 2018.