Already a beloved institution within the community, AMFA sought to reimagine the possibilities for the next chapter of its growth by improving the visitor experience and staff operations, opening the building up to the surrounding park and city, crafting a bold new visual identity, and creating a sustainable building that could support a wider range of educational and public programs. Conceived as a stem that blossoms to the north and south and anchored by major new visitor amenities, the design mediates between the museum's existing architecture to define a new public gallery and gathering space that provides an unprecedented axis of connectivity linking the museum's disparate programs and also serves as a focal point for extensive renovations that help AMFA meet growing visitor needs.
Together, the architecture and landscape design create a more open and welcoming cultural commons, seamlessly bridging together indoor and outdoor spaces to reflect, gather, and celebrate the region’s artistic and environmental richness. The design for the 11-acre landscape nests the museum in a lush, forested environment and includes 200 linear feet of added paths and a matrix of over 250 new trees that will merge with the existing canopy over time, blending outward into the adjacent MacArthur Park—Little Rock’s oldest municipal park. The new design also incorporates opportunities for art appreciation across the grounds, including an expanded open-air sculpture collection, art production space, and flexible lawns for public events and performances.
Challenging the all-too-common practice within architecture of demolishing buildings, the design approach “starts with what’s there,” recognizing the existing positive qualities of a place and unfolding new possibilities from them. Over time, the Museum's growth had resulted in a cluster of eight additions from different eras with no clear entry and confusing circulation. To reorganize and liberate the potential of the existing buildings, while minimizing the project’s embodied carbon, the design reused and renewed as many of the old additions as possible, especially their structure and foundations. The project is on track to achieve LEED Silver certification, an impressive achievement for an adaptive reuse project in the hot climate of the American South.
The reimagined AMFA renews and reuses as many of the Museum’s existing buildings as possible, bringing them together as a harmonious whole. A new, connective space, running axially through the entire building like a graceful stem, unifies and reorganizes the Museum’s functions and programs, and supports a seamless flow across the site. This iconic addition elegantly expresses AMFA’s reorganization along a light-filled central spine that connects patrons to the main program components and new entrances and social spaces at each end.
Visitors arriving from the north are greeted by a new community gathering space, the Cultural Living Room. With its transparent façade and bold, uplifted form, the space is conceived as a beacon that welcomes everyone inside. The Museum’s original 1937 Art Deco façade is restored as a grand entry, accessible from a new outdoor courtyard space.
At the south end, the building’s central stem emerges outward toward the park. More informal than its counterpart to the north, the Park Entrance steps down in height, along with the site’s topography, to meet visitors. The deep overhangs of the roof create a sheltered dining terrace for the new indoor-outdoor restaurant, where people can socialize and enjoy the revitalized landscape and Sculpture Garden beyond.
Additional renovations to the Children’s Theatre, new art classrooms, increased art storage capacity, and a simplified art handling route further contribute to promoting art stewardship and education.
We’re a free museum… a lot of what we offer is free to the public because we don’t want to have any barriers for people to participate. I think when people come to the new museum, the new building, they’ll see these really unique social and gathering spaces where those kinds of exchanges with people you know or people you’re meeting for the first time can happen. And that, to me, is one of the really important roles that museums can play in a community. - Dr. Victoria Ramirez, Executive Director
Founded and led by Jeanne Gang, Studio Gang is an architecture and urban design practice headquartered in Chicago with offices in New York, San Francisco, and Paris. Working as a collective of more than 140 architects, designers, and planners, we create innovative projects that bring about measurable positive change for their users, communities, and natural ecology—a mission we refer to as “actionable idealism.”
Studio Gang’s award-winning work ranges in scale and typology from Chicago’s Aqua Tower and the new Richard Gilder Center at the Americam Museum of Natural History in New York City, to the upcoming 30-acre Tom Lee Park in Memphis. Studio Gang is currently engaged in cultural, civic, and mixed-use projects across the Americas and in Europe, including a new Center in Paris for the University of Chicago, a new United States Embassy in Brasilia, and the Global Terminal at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago.