This design for the University of Arkansas’s Center for Wood and Material Innovation creates a visible public landmark that connects wood research with Arkansas’s mass timber industries and tree thinning best-practices for ecologically responsible forest management. While mills and markets exist for trees over 9” DBH, smaller tree thinnings are often discarded or burned. Our project demonstrates the structural capacities and architectural applications of small wild wood, opening new value chains for large small-scale forests. The building massing is designed to reflect the history of industrial wood production on this site. The six-story tower, with labs, research classrooms and public exhibition space orient to the urban street grid: a vertical landmark visible from the historic Campus and City Centers. The Workshop and work yard plaza are oriented to the historic rail geometry. The urban and industrial orientations create legible volumes for research and workshop activities with spatial connections in section that bridge between teaching and learning in research and production.

An integrated native forest landscape, visible from Workshop and Auditorium, gives identity to a new creative urban precinct. The qualities of Arkansas’s regional forests – ecological diversity, climate resiliency and tactile pleasure – link wood fabrication, education and research to the daily experience of living trees. The landscape design demonstrates a fully accessible, shared public ground plane with ramps and low walls that connect this steep site—enabling the public Auditorium and other resources to be shared by the Art and Architecture Schools.

The project’s innovative structural system utilizes US sourced glulam members for axial forces together with a lateral bracing network of small-diameter hardwood thinnings from NW Arkansas forests. Using 3D scanning and computation to calculate the structural capacities of thinnings, the project celebrates the diversity of Arkansas trees and demonstrates a new value for wood. The stepped glue laminated wood beams and columns are structurally optimized to reflect the forces they carry. They express the fundamental principle of mass timber: the aggregate layering of wood. The public image of the Timberlands Center balances cost effective manufacturing and structural repetition with the natural exceptionality and diverse variation of tree form.

Date: Competition October 2019 through February 2020
Status: Competition Design Finalist
Client: University of Arkansas
Location: Fayetteville, AR
Design Team:
Frano Violich, FAIA; Managing Principal
Sheila Kennedy, FAIA; Principal Consulting on Design
Ben Widger, AIA; Project Architect
Nick Johnson, Daniel Sebaldt, AIA, Taylor Boes, Marisa Concetta Waddle, Charlotte D’Acierno, Marlena Fauer, Daniel Marshall, Karaghen Hudson, Greta Wong; Project Designers
Architect: Kennedy & Violich Architecture, Ltd.
Structural Engineer: Knippers Helbig Engineering
MEP Engineer: Arup Group
Landscape Architect: Spackman Mossop Michaels
Climate Consultant: Transsolar
Mass Timber Consultant: Katie Faulkner, FAIA - Katerra
Timber Consultant: Whole Trees Company
Structures Consultant: MIT Digital Structures Group

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WILD WOOD: Timberlands Center for Design and Material Innovation