Little Rock Look Back: Studio Gang announced as lead architect for re-envisioning of Arkansas Arts Center

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.

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Little Rock Look Back: CALS Opens New Downtown Main Library

On September 20, 1997, the Central Arkansas Library System debuted its new main library building.  The building had previously been the Fones Brothers Warehouse building and was repurposed by the Polk Stanley Yeary architectural firm.

The grand opening festivities included storytellers for children throughout the day as well as various special activities.  Linked balloons made to resemble bookworms greeted visitors to the front entrance.

The move and expansion were the dream of then-CALS Director Bobby Roberts.  The previous library space had limited parking and was in a confined (and confining) space with no room for expansion.

To prepare for the move from the old location at 7th and Louisiana Streets, the library’s main branch had closed in July.  They had to inventory the existing materials in anticipation of the move.  The actual transport of the 250,000 books was accomplished in three 16-hour work days by the 65 member staff.

The project cost $13 million dollars, most of which came from a millage approved by voters. The 200 seat auditorium was funded by overdue book fines and areas for the employees were financed by a patron bequest.

At the time it opened, the fifth floor remained undeveloped.

Since September 1997, the fifth floor has been developed and CALS has ultimately developed over one city block in what is now known as Library Square.

CALS Branch Up for Best Public Library

Hillary Clinton Children’ s Library and Learning Center (photo courtesy of Polk Stanley Wilcox)

And then there were 32!

The Central Arkansas Library System’s Hillary Clinton Children’s Library and Learning Center is advancing in a national competition for the Best Public Library.  The search is sponsored by Engaging Local Government Leaders (ELGL).

The competition started with 116 libraries spread throughout all 50 states.  CALS was the only library system with three nominees. They were the Main Branch, the Roosevelt Thompson Branch, and the Hillary Clinton Children’s Library and Learning Center.  After over 11,000 votes were cast, the top 32 were announced on Saturday.

The next round features 32 libraries from 25 states.  You can vote for Little Rock, here!  Voting runs through February 2!  You can only vote once, so encourage others to do so, too!

The award is named for fictional city government employee extraordinaire Leslie Knope.

Polk Stanley Wilcox joins Studio Gang Architects in planning for reimagined Arkansas Arts Center

arkartsThe Arkansas Arts Center announced the selection of Polk Stanley Wilcox Architects as associate architect for its upcoming building project. Polk Stanley Wilcox will work in partnership with Studio Gang Architects on a reimagined Arkansas Arts Center. Studio Gang was selected as design architect for the expansion and renovation in December.

Polk Stanley Wilcox Architects is a programming, architectural, planning and interior design firm with offices in Little Rock and Fayetteville. The firm has experience working with clients in a variety of industries, including healthcare, nonprofit, cultural, education, corporate and worship. Polk Stanley Wilcox also focuses on sustainability and creating buildings that operate on minimal energy usage.

“We are thrilled to partner with the Arkansas Arts Center and Studio Gang on this transformative project,” Polk Stanley Wilcox Principal David Porter said. “AAC has cast an exciting vision to rethink not only how the Center upgrades the interior and exterior spaces, but how the AAC connects to and enriches the broad arts and cultural tapestry of Little Rock. Studio Gang is a uniquely talented firm to lead the design effort. PSW is honored to bring our extensive experience from years of important projects in downtown Little Rock to come alongside them and the AAC to help create this next critical milestone for the city, state and region.”

Polk Stanley Wilcox has previously worked on a number of local projects, including the William J. Clinton Presidential Library, Heifer International Headquarters, the Arkansas Studies Institute and the recently opened Robinson Center expansion and renovation.

“We look forward to working with the team at Polk Stanley Wilcox,” said Studio Gang Founding Principal Jeanne Gang. “We hope to build on their strong history of collaborations in the area and believe that their knowledge of Little Rock will be a huge asset as we expand the impact of the Arkansas Arts Center in Little Rock, and in the region.”

Polk Stanley Wilcox Architects was selected from among three finalists to work in partnership with Studio Gang. Ten local firms responded to the RFQ issued last month. Allison and Partners and Cromwell Architects were also finalists.

The three finalist firms presented to the selection committee on February 16. The selection committee for the associate architect included AAC Executive Director Todd Herman, three representatives from Studio Gang, and international museum consultant Deborah Frieden, and AAC Board member Sara Hendricks Batcheller.

“Each of the finalists are strong, well-respected firms,” Arts Center Executive Director Todd Herman said. “Ultimately, Polk, Stanley, Wilcox was the best complement to Studio Gang in terms of experience and strengths. Their work at Robinson auditorium – similar in both scope and complexity – will be an asset as we move through the project. We are very pleased to have PSW on board for this important project that will create wonderful new spaces for the people of Little Rock and Arkansas to enjoy the arts. Having our architectural team in place is a major milestone. We are very excited to move the project forward.”

Arkansas Heritage Month – American Institute of Steel Construction honors Polk Stanley Wilcox and CALS

AIA ALA PSW HRCCLCThe American Institute of Steel Construction (AISC) in Chicago has announced that Polk Stanley Wilcox Architect’s design of the Hillary Rodham Clinton Library and Learning Center in Little Rock, Arkansas has been honored in its prestigious annual awards.

In all, just ten building projects from around the country earned awards in the 2016 Innovative Design in Engineering and Architecture with Structural Steel awards program (IDEAS2), recently announced during AISC’s 2016 Conference in Orlando, Florida. An award presentation will be scheduled for this summer at the library in Little Rock. A panel of design and construction professionals identified National and Merit Awards in three categories, based on constructed value. Other winners included the National 9/11 Memorial Museum Pavilion in New York by Snohetta, Rutgers University School of Business by TEN Arquitectos, and Emmerson College in Los Angeles by Morphosis.

East Harding Construction of Little Rock was the General Contractor, while Engineering Consultants Inc. of Little Rock served as structural engineer for the innovative project.

Jury Comments:

“With a community driven mission, the library showcases steel in its purest form and use in a whimsical, but purposeful manner.” – Wanda Lau, Senior Editor ARCHITECT Magazine

“Playful and inspiring inside and out, this project succeeds in its goal of capturing the child’s imagination.” – Jason Stone, Senior Associate Leslie E. Robertson Associates

“The playfulness of the steel structure exterior, combined with the opportunity to utilize the structure as a teaching tool to inspire children to pursue math and science, makes this a natural choice for AISC and the IDEAS2 Awards” – Paula Pritchard, Plant Construction Co., L.P.

According to design architect Reese Rowland FAIA, “This library’s meaning can be seen in the faces of the children – their excitement and wonder, and hopeful smiles that say their future can be limitless with the right opportunities. Some of those opportunities involve teaching simple life skills that build confidence, while others focus on technology not available in the home.

The key to the library’s success comes from a vision set forth by CALS to not only build a functional public library and education facility, but also a symbol that represents hope. Being listed alongside these other nationally recognized projects is a strong indication that this vision was successfully achieved, helping create a new sense of pride for the children of Little Rock. We are grateful to the Central Arkansas Library System, as well as the people of Little Rock that funded this incredible project for our children.”

The Hillary Rodham Clinton Library and Learning Center was also honored in 2015 with Library Architecture’s highest honor, a National AIA/ALA Library Honor Award, one of just six given recognizing the best examples of new libraries from around the world. Learn more about this award at:

http://www.aia.org/practicing/awards/2015/library-awards/

This is the fourth AISC National Award for Polk Stanley Wilcox Architects, with the others being the CALS Arkansas Studies Institute in Little Rock, The El Dorado Conference Center, and Heifer International’s World Headquarters in Little Rock, which also won architecture’s highest honor: the American Institute of Architect’s National Institute Honor Award.

Arkansas Heritage Month – The architecture of AIA/ALA award winning CALS libraries by Polk Stanley Wilcox

To encourage excellence in the architectural design and planning of libraries, the AIA and the American Library Association/Library Administration and Management Association created this award to distinguish accomplishments in library architecture.  In 2011 and again in 2015, Polk Stanley Wilcox won the award for projects designed for the Central Arkansas Library System.

AIA ALA PSW ASIThe 2011 award went to for work on the Arkansas Studies Institute.  This actually combines three buildings of three different centuries and construction types into one architectural timeline, evoking imagery of pages of an opening book.

The Arkansas Studies Institute is a repository for 10 million historic documents and the papers of seven Arkansas Governors, including President Bill Clinton. Located in a thriving entertainment district comprised of rejuvenated warehouses near the Arkansas River, the design combines significant, but neglected buildings from the 1880’s and 1910’s with a new technologically expressive archive addition. This creates a pedestrian focused, iconic gateway to the public library campus – and the public face of Arkansas history.

The design philosophy is based literally on the book – a physical container of information, with pages flowing into a site-sensitive narrative of the building’s function. Taking cues from the medium for which the Institute was created, the entrance acts as an abstract book cover, pulled away from the building as a double wall, defusing western sunlight and heat in the atrium beyond.

Public Spaces – galleries, a café, museum, and meeting rooms – enliven streetscape storefronts, while the great library research hall encompasses the entire second floor of the 1914 warehouse building. A thin atrium pulls the new structure away to protect the old, stretching the building’s length and flooding all levels with light – a key sustainable strategy. 100 historic images in glass handrails signify that architecture can and should actively engage in storytelling. Suspended bridges span the gap between new and old, open and secure, today and yesterday.

The Arkansas Studies Institute weaves history, research, pedestrians, and a restored streetscape together, healing a gaping wound in the urban fabric, while expanding environmental stewardship into the public realm and serving as a beacon of knowledge.

AIA ALA PSW HRCCLCIn 2015, the award went to PSW for their work on the Hillary Rodham Clinton Children’s Library and Learning Center.

Based on experiential learning where hands-on education teaches life skills needed to become responsible adults, a new Children’s Library and Learning Center boosts hopes for a neglected neighborhood, serves as an exemplary tale of urban renewal, and acts as a beacon of hope for an entire city.

This “community embedded, supportive learning center” offers not only books, but also a performance space, teaching kitchen, greenhouse, vegetable garden, and an arboretum. It is the state’s first library holistically imagined as a children’s education destination. The Library Director’s challenge was to create a “playground without equipment” where nature and imagination create grand adventures on an abandoned six acre site in the heart of the capital city. A charrette with youth uncovered a surprising and heartbreaking result: their top desire wasn’t for the latest video game technologies… it was food security. They wanted to learn how to feed themselves. Children also desired a place that was uplifting, inspirational and full of natural light, while in contrast feeling safe, secure, and sheltered. They wanted a place that “lifted expectations”.

An interstate highway—the railroad tracks of our generation—split Little Rock 40 years ago and destroyed a unified city grid, contributing to racial and socioeconomic divisions that separated citizens physically and emotionally. The site’s border condition became a national symbol for gang violence when featured in a 1990’s HBO documentary. Its opposite side, however, continued to be the city’s version of New York City’s Central Park—the place to live, work, and play. The design team’s overarching idea was centered on three moves: bridge the gap by stretching the park across the highway, create a library that is “the place to be” for all children, and develop civic pride in an underserved neighborhood, helping to mend partitions that have plagued the city for so long.

Landscape ecology and urban connectivity themes provide experiential education. Children see natural vegetation representing the state’s varied ecological regions from the Ozark Highlands to the Mississippi Delta. Two bus lines within a quarter mile assure access from distances, while the hundreds of children living within a half mile can walk or bike. An instructional greenhouse, gardens, and teaching kitchen allow children to cultivate, harvest, prepare meals, and sell produce in a planned farmer’s market. A full time ‘Environmental Educator’ oversees programs, teaching proper use of water, energy, and resources, and how we keep healthy through decisions made within the built environment. The lobby’s smart monitors can display real time water and energy consumption. Mechanical and structural systems are purposefully exposed so operations and construction methods can be discussed.

While this Library exceeded expectations by achieving LEED Gold, the true measure of success beyond points is the neighborhood’s feel, which shifted from dangerous to full of life and pride. The library is a safe zone and home to a sustainable-minded community.

New Rooftop Terrace planned for Robinson Center

RCMH EXT-01_Aerial1The Little Rock Convention & Visitors Bureau (LRCVB) is now booking events for the all-new Robinson Conference Center, set to reopen in November of this year.  Located on the north side of the building, the Grand Ballroom and adjoining meeting rooms offer magnificent views of the Arkansas River.  With seamless connectivity to the DoubleTree Hotel’s meeting space, the center offers flexibility for convention activities, meetings, and banquets.  For booking information, please call 501-255-3323.

Earlier this week, the Little Rock Advertising and Promotion Commission (LRA&P) also approved the addition of a 5,800 sq. ft. outdoor terrace.  The terrace was part of the original project plans, however, but it was removed from the plans in 2014 during contract negotiations due to budget constraints.  Now, less than eight months from completion, LRCVB and LR A&P are able to add the finished outdoor space back into the project.  The space will offer amazing views of the Arkansas River and sits on the highest level of the new conference center, and its addition will not impact the project’s completion date.

“We are so pleased with the progress of this complex project.  Our project team, including architects Polk Stanley Wilcox and Ennead, construction manager CDI/Hunt joint venture, owner’s representatives Mike Steelman of SCM architects, and a host of sub-contractors, have continued to provide meticulous attention to detail and countless effort to this project.  The all-new Robinson Center is going to be a show-piece for Little Rock and all of Central Arkansas,” said Gretchen Hall, President & CEO of LRCVB.

For more information on the Robinson Center Second Act renovation and expansion project, visit www.RobinsonCenterSecondAct.com and follow us on https://www.facebook.com/pages/Robinson-Center/276515585880 and https://twitter.com/RobinsonCenter.

Robinson Construction Facts to Date:

  • Over 10,878 tons of material have been recycled, representing 90% of the waste material diverted
  • 1,800 tons of steel has been erected
  • 3,000 cubic yards of concrete has been placed
  • 1,104 individuals have gone through CDI/Hunt Safety Orientation
  • 75% of the project subcontractors are local
  • 250,000 +/- man hours have been utilized to date

Robinson History

The historic Robinson Auditorium has long been a landmark in Central Arkansas.  Construction of the Joseph T. Robinson Memorial Auditorium began in 1937 and officially opened in February 1940.  The structure was a WPA (Works Progress 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.