‘The Circle’ is a mixed-use live-work destination in a small town (Bentonville, Arkansas population: 40,000) undergoing ‘urban succession’ from low-density metropolitan sprawl to a mature city with density and good town form. At the edge of downtown, ‘The Circle’ reproduces a grand public room equivalent in scale and quality to Bentonville’s exemplary downtown square, recalibrating a diffused automobile-oriented landscape. Complementing Walmart’s three million square-foot corporate headquarters slated for construction nearby, ‘The Circle’ creates high-density development while preserving the intimate public spaces found in small-towns. It does this by building a public open space system atop an in-ground parking podium. ‘The Circle’ offers next-generation lifestyle facilities through co-living and co-working spaces, modular lofts (capable of easy reconfiguration in plan or section), cafes, and support services for short-term and long-term stays. In the tradition of grand urban hotels as social institutions, the site extends the hospitality services in its own hotel to the entire development offering neighborhood-based dining, recreation, shopping, and gathering beyond that for its guests.
‘The Circle’ trends toward the paradoxes of new middle American urban landscapes. Landscapes that integrate the mixed-uses, higher densities, and vital public spaces of dense urban areas with a more generous fabric of civic spaces and natural landscapes—where the street is not the only placemaking tool. The parking podium generates unique landscapes in section. In plan, ‘The Circle’ accommodates the roadside strip, and its speed and convenience at the perimeter. Towards the interior, the nine-acre site is anchored by a warped plaza ringed with slower experience-based live, work, and social land uses integrated in both plan and section. Space is privileged over density. Opposite the commercial arterial, superlofts deliver on the expectations common to great residential streets with their walk-up units, terraces, balconies, and porches that slow down the pace of life and encourage informal social exchange.
The urban landscapes of ‘The Circle’ are rewilded, accommodating wild-grassed bioswales in the parking deck for stormwater treatment, sky gardens in the hotel and superlofts, and a pleasure garden at the base of the hotel accenting the street vista as one leaves downtown Bentonville. Movement from parking below to grade-level functions above is accommodated through large-scale landscapes aside from vertical circulation cores. An ‘allee’ in the plaza extends the shade economy of loggias ringing ‘The Circle’ and terminating at an ETFE-canopied court hosting food kiosks and trucks. New middle-American landscapes are emerging as urbanized hospitality landscapes through new regimes of sharing, productive frictions among land uses, fluidity between live and work, and multi-modal mobility accommodations among pedestrians, motorists, and cyclists.
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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