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Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts

Studio Gang

Little Rock, Arkansas, United States

April 2023


Josh Ellman (Marketing Principal)


Polk Stanley Wilcox (Associate Architect), SCAPE (Landscape Architect), Thornton Tomasetti (Structural Engineer), dbHMS (MEP/FP and Sustainability Consultant)


Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts


Iwan Baan


Creating a vibrant space for social interaction, education, and appreciation for the arts, the design for AMFA transforms this cultural institution into a signature civic asset.

AMFA's eight architectural additions had resulted in a motley collection of fortress-like spaces that made the museum’s three impressive programs—a renowned collection of works on paper, the Museum School, and the Children’s Theatre—difficult for visitors to locate and experience. The client’s goals were to improve visitor experience and staff operations, connect the building to its surroundings, and create a bold visual identity with a sustainable project that could support a wider range of educational and public programs.

Working from the inside out, the design—which includes new construction and renovations—clarifies the organization of the building’s interior and extends AMFA's presence into historic MacArthur Park. 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 programs. The addition also serves as a focal point for renovations that help AMFA meet its growing visitor needs, with new dedicated programs that demonstrate best practices for art exhibition, conservation, and research.

Inviting visitors to experience anew the building’s original 1937 façade, the excavation of the existing building also reveals expanded spaces for performance, exhibition, and art making. The new architecture’s pleated, thin-plate structure signals a strong and reenergized visual identity.


The design for AMFA treats architecture and landscape as intrinsically linked, embedding the building in a revitalized park ecology to create an arts campus where culture and nature reinforce one another as part of the same environment.

Distinctive new entrances open the building up to its surroundings. Reinforcing AMFA’s mission to become a true museum in a park, the Dining Pavilion at the museum’s south end (formerly a parking lot) immerses the building in a renewed MacArthur Park. The building’s roof reaches into the park beyond to create a new indoor-outdoor social space that complements the museum’s cultural and educational offerings while providing much-needed shade for visitors and students.

The fluid lines of the new central addition continue into the pathways and petal-shaped gardens of the museum’s 11-acre grounds. The folded-plate, cast-in-place concrete roof directs rainwater into bioswales next to the building, which have channels that connect to a nearby pond. This creates a dramatic display during rain events, celebrating and highlighting a system to better manage, utilize, and clean water.

Native plant species—including oak and wax myrtles—promote the conservation of bird and pollinator populations. The design also includes 2,200 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 MacArthur Park.

Altogether the design embodies the museum's commitment to its community and its environs, strengthening its cultural and educational offerings and connecting visitors to each other, art, nature, and the city.


To minimize the project’s embodied carbon, the design reused and renewed as many of AMFA’s old additions as possible, especially their concrete and steel structure and foundations. Building only what was needed, the organic, curving form of the new central addition is an elegant response to the constraints of the existing volumes.

Together with other sustainable strategies, such as the self-shading roof, efficient radiant heating and cooling system, and innovative rainwater recycling system which captures water from the roof, the project received LEED Silver certification, an impressive achievement for an adaptive reuse project in the hot climate of the American South.

The new AMFA acts as an energizing change agent for downtown Little Rock. Its reimagined building allows the institution to better engage its community and surroundings, present a more welcoming and accessible identity, and accommodate the needs of diverse audiences with a vastly improved visitor experience. Revenue-generating spaces such as a shop and full-service restaurant support the institution’s mission to make art accessible—including through such initiatives as free admission to all visitors. The museum’s new social spaces, such as the Cultural Living Room and Dining Pavilion, are a resource for all in the community to enjoy. As reported in Arkansas Business, the neighborhoods adjacent to AMFA have already seen an increase in development efforts, with the opening of several retail spaces and with more commercial, residential, and entertainment developments anticipated in the future.

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