modus on design team for Anthony Timberlands Center.

Mar 20, 2020

The University of Arkansas System Board of Trustees has approved Grafton Architects, based in Dublin, Ireland, in partnership with Modus Studio as the project team for the planned Anthony Timberlands Center for Design and Materials Innovation.

Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara, co-founders of Grafton Architects, were recently named the 2020 recipients of the Pritzker Architecture Prize, an award known internationally as architecture's highest honor.

This board approval on March 19 confirms the recommendation to the board by both the external evaluation team and the campus review committee of Modus Studio with Grafton Architects as the project team. This team will now continue to develop the design for the new $16 million design research center.

This planned center, part of the Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design, will be located on the northeast corner of the university’s Windgate Art and Design District, along Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in south Fayetteville. This campus district houses existing and proposed buildings for the School of Art and University Libraries.

The new applied research center will serve as the epicenter for the Fay Jones School’s multiple timber and wood design initiatives, house the school’s existing and expanding design-build program and fabrication technologies laboratories, and serve as the new home to the school’s emerging graduate program in timber and wood design.

“This is fantastic news,” said Farrell and McNamara. “We are very excited about building our first building in the United States in Fayetteville, Arkansas. This building helps us think about the future optimistically, where the use of timber with all its possibilities, becomes real, useful and hopefully loved.”

“We are delighted and honored by this opportunity to work with Grafton Architects and the Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design,” said Chris Baribeau, principal at Modus Studio. “This is a unique opportunity to see the possibilities of an innovative wood building through an international lens while lending our Ozark perspective. Our passion for craft in architecture and making will serve our University of Arkansas students, faculty and staff for years to come.”

The selection of the design team comes after a months-long process unlike anything previously done for a university building. The Fay Jones School initiated a design competition that was funded in large part by a grant from the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities.

“The University of Arkansas has been a leader in showcasing all the benefits of mass timber architecture,” said Carlton Owen, CEO of the U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities. “We are looking forward to the results of a leading architectural university working with this year’s Pritzker Prize winners to take wood-based architecture to new heights.”

A total of 69 firms from 10 countries answered the university’s request for qualifications from architects that was released Oct. 4. Peter MacKeith, dean of the Fay Jones School, served as chair of a campus review committee that reviewed the qualifications submitted by architects in November.

From those submissions, six finalist firms were selected to conceive conceptual design proposals for the new research center. The other finalist firms were WT/GO Architecture of New Haven, Connecticut; Dorte Mandrup A/S of Copenhagen, Denmark; Shigeru Ban Architects of Tokyo/New York/Paris; Kennedy & Violich Architecture of Boston, Massachusetts; and LEVER Architecture of Portland, Oregon.

The finalist firms presented their proposals to public audiences and met with the review committee and external evaluators on campus Feb. 5 and 6. Videos of their public presentations can be found on the Fay Jones School’s YouTube channel.


“The basic idea of this new Anthony Timberlands Center is that the building itself is a Story Book of Timber,” Farrell said. “We want people to experience the versatility of timber, both as the structural ‘bones’ and the enclosing ‘skin’ of this new building. The building itself is a teaching tool, displaying the strength, color, grain, texture and beauty of the various timbers used.”

She said that the building’s cascading roof responds to the local climate, captures natural light and encloses this state-of-the-art educational facility. The building has a civic quality, opening up to show the vibrant research activities, not only to the students working within it, but also to the general public passing by.

The design competition finalists’ conceptual design proposals were assessed by an external evaluation team composed of Toshiko Mori, FAIA, of Toshiko Mori Architects and the Robert P. Hubbard Professor of Practice at Harvard University Graduate School of Design; Tod Williams, FAIA, of Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects; and Juhani Pallasmaa, SAFA, HFAIA, of Juhani Pallasmaa Architects in Helsinki, Finland.

In that team’s assessment of Grafton Architects’ proposal, the group noted its combination of “valid pragmatic ideas with a poetic solution. Simultaneously complex and simple, it expresses a high aspiration. It creates a memorable institutional landmark for the urban landscape of Fayetteville.”

Of the six proposals, they said this one “presents the most compelling landscaping plan, demonstrating possibilities for integrating the architecture and art programs in the Windgate Art and Design District. The building fulfills its designer’s ambition of being ‘a storybook of timber.’ … In syncing material use to program, this approach offers students first-hand opportunities to learn about timber. The wood structures are educational in an experiential and poetic manner. The dramatically soaring, rhythmical space is an architectural abstraction of a sensorially rich forest condition.”

The campus review committee that also evaluated the conceptual design proposals included several Fay Jones School faculty and staff: John Folan, professor and head of the Department of Architecture; Jonathan Boelkins, teaching assistant professor of architecture; Kimberley Furlong, associate professor of interior design; Gabriel Diaz Montemayor, assistant professor of landscape architecture; and Angela Carpenter, instructor and Fabrication Labs manager. Others from campus on the committee were Gerry Snyder, executive director of the School of Art, as well as Facilities Management representatives Todd Furgason, senior campus planner; Jay Huneycutt, director of planning and design; and Dan Clairmont, director of engineering and construction.

“The selection of Grafton Architects, in partnership with Modus Studio, for the Anthony Timberlands Center project immediately magnifies the already immense significance of the Fay Jones School’s current and future initiatives in the further development of timber and wood innovation for the state of Arkansas,” said Peter MacKeith, dean of the Fay Jones School. “As Pritzker Prize winners and as RIBA Gold Medalists, the engagement of Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara and all at Grafton Architects deepens and extends the legacy of architectural design excellence epitomized by our namesake Fay Jones, FAIA, the 1990 AIA Gold Medalist, a legacy now continued by our colleague Professor Marlon Blackwell, FAIA, and the 2020 AIA Gold Medalist. Further, as sensitive, resourceful innovators in the use of materials and construction, light and space, structure and detail, Yvonne and Shelley and their Grafton colleagues will bring to tangible presence the vision of John Ed and Isabel Anthony, Chancellor Steinmetz and Governor Hutchinson, and so many others across the state in the forest communities of Arkansas. Lastly, as an accomplished, recognized women-led practice, Grafton Architects confirms for all our students that the design professions are equally theirs in which to find their identities and to realize their potentials. This selection, in short, is a landmark day for our school, our university and our state.”

The design on the project is scheduled to begin this summer. 

Image courtesy of Grafton Architects.