University of Arkansas Community Design Center - The Shed, a social center for the Little Rock Air Force Base
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The Shed, a social center for the Little Rock Air Force Base

University of Arkansas Community Design Center

Mixed Use  /  Future
University of Arkansas Community Design Center

“Architecture that lasts is an interior that is grounded in its place” Robert McCarter, The Space Within: Interior Experience as the Origin of Architecture The Shed sustains mission preparedness through the promotion of social connection and mental well-being among military personnel. At 5,300 square meters, The Shed is a “mat building” supporting spaces of diverse programs and scales. A central public concourse with a café, bar, art gallery, courtyard, and recreation areas serve as informal filters to large formal meeting areas and large logistics spaces. The mixed-use complex is equally tasked with showcasing mass timber building technology and with exploring community planning approaches that facilitate greater sociability on military bases. The communal facilities of military bases offer critical respite, fellowship, and restorative functions indispensable among soldiers, families, and veterans engaged in stressful and often traumatizing service to their country. The disruptions in social and familial relations brought on by troop deployment, multiple redeployments and relocations, family separation and reunification, and casualties in combat create an environment of chronic stress. Even the return to civilian life can be alienating and disorienting. The Air Force Base leadership wishes to develop a social center consolidating separate facilities for Outdoor Recreation (storage for recreation vehicle rentals, disc golfing, canoeing, fishing, bicycling, etc.), a Morale Welfare and Recreation Center (family spaces and a children’s play area), a Bar with Conference/Banquet Facilities, and a combined Automobile Hobby and Arts/Crafts Shop. Base leadership deems the creation of a “third place” imperative for maintaining mission preparedness and morale among military personnel, many who suffer from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. Reconciling Tectonics, “Third Place”, and Biophilia Urban sociologist Ray Oldenburg coined the third place to denote those life-affirming civic places that are neither work nor home. In his now classic The Great Good Place, Oldenburg articulates the importance of informal gathering spaces driven by conversation and comradery—taverns, gyms, coffee shops, salons, clubs, cafes, parks/community gardens, and other types of hangouts—in promoting civil society and its social capital. Developing spaces of care drives project planning—akin to what author Sara Jensen Carr calls “topographies of wellness”. Biophilia is man’s intrinsic biological connection with nature, while biophilic design nurtures a love of place. How may the unique biophilic properties of wood shape topographies of care and well-being? First, the tectonic orients us to biophilic properties of mass timber and the architectural role of the roof in developing a social canopy at the level of the landscape and the building. Second, the concept of the third place is key for developing programmatic relationships at the level of the site and the building such that the social center becomes a true central gathering place on the base. Third, biophilic design—the integration of nature into building space and place conditions—is a restorative strategy for improving health and well-being in the built environment. The Shed’s organization incorporates an open public concourse that runs through the facility’s center connecting exterior spaces with interior programs. The concourse begins in an entry plaza on Cannon Circle with a porte cochere, a cafe terrace, and a “green” parking facility on the north side of the building and ends on the south side of the building with a large public porch overlooking a new amphitheater. Here, sloped ceiling sections supported by a non-linear field of timber columns resemble a grove of trees. The concourse hosts fine-grained social programs like the foyer, an open landscaped courtyard, a cafe and bar, an expanded corridor doubling as an art gallery, the Recreation Equipment Showroom, and recreation spaces for families and children. Despite the need to segregate environmentally unconditioned logistics spaces (Storage and Car Repair) from conditioned social spaces (Multi-Purpose Banquet Hall and Meeting Rooms), the facility is mostly an open-plan arrangement of multiple circulation loops to promote good wayfinding and access to natural light. The Shed’s peopled frontage signals the arrival of a significant third place facing the base’s hotel/visitor center and dormitories across the lawn. The geometries of The Shed’s mass timber structure are responsive to program groupings and their various activities. Post-and-beam structural grids shelter logistics spaces, while the social areas have more complex structural geometries. Besides the public concourse’s triangulation of structural bays, the Multi-Purpose Banquet Hall for large assemblies and ceremonies requires a long-span structure traversing 22 meters between piers. Here, the structural strategy involves a reticulated stacked system for transferring distributed loads in the roof plane to point loads at piers. Structural loads are transferred from a pitched 34-meter long CLT roof deck to triangulated timber struts that redistribute loads to four-foot-deep level beams spaced apart at three-meter intervals on piers. Here, the visual (and thermal) effusivity of the timber structure amplifies the roles of natural light, nestled scales, and construction detail, in shaping biophilic qualities for large flexible meeting spaces. Mass timber as both interior finished surface and building structure supports biophilia and a sense of well-being throughout the Shed. The Shed could readily become a base icon, serving as both a regular hangout for personnel—even for hobbyist vehicle repair and modification (one of the most popular leisure activities among base personnel)—while offering a stately setting for military ceremonies.

Credits

 Jacksonville, Arkansas
 Little Rock Air Force Base
 07/2025
 5300
 27500000
 University of Arkansas Community Design Center
 University of Arkansas Community Design Center
 University of Arkansas Community Design Center

Curriculum

The University of Arkansas Community Design Center is an outreach center of the Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design, and one of a few university-based teaching offices in the United States dedicated to delivering urban design work. Originated in 1995, the center advances creative development in Arkansas through design, research, and education solutions. Nationally recognized in public-interest design, the center has its own downtown facilities and 5-6 professional design/planning staff, some who also teach. Beyond the focus on urban projects, UACDC has developed eight place-making platforms to shape civic design and public policy at state and municipal levels. These interdisciplinary platforms include 'missing middle housing,' 'agricultural urbanism,' 'transit-oriented development,' 'context-sensitive street design,' 'watershed urbanism,' 'big box urbanism,' 'smart growth,' and 'low impact development,' vocabularies which are locally articulated but hold universal currency.

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