Grafton Architects Selected for Project Team for Anthony Timberlands Centre


The University of Arkansas Board of Trustees has approved Grafton Architects, based in Dublin, Ireland, in partnership with Modus Studio of Fayetteville as the project team for the planned Anthony Timberlands Centre 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 honour. 

“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.”

Modus Studio and Grafton Architects will develop the design for the new $16 million design research centre as a project team.

This planned centre, 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 centre 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 programme in timber and wood design.

“We are delighted and honoured 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 centre.


“The basic idea of this new Anthony Timberlands Centre 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, colour, 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.

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 programmes in the Windgate Art and Design District. The building fulfills its designer’s ambition of being ‘a storybook of timber.’ … In synching material use to programme, 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 design on the project is scheduled to begin this summer.