Obama Presidential Center designers approved as architects for UA art gallery project


University of Arkansas administrators on Thursday approved an architect and construction manager for a $ 34 million art gallery building described as the completion of the Windgate Art and Design District of the University of Arkansas.

The Windgate Galleries will be built between two other new structures, a four-level visual arts building under construction and a planned architectural design center.

The neighborhood, about a block and a few blocks from the main AU campus, is named after the Little Rock-based Windgate Foundation, which offers donations of $ 40 million and $ 30 million. dollars to the university to support new art installations. .

“The estimated $ 34 million privately funded project will complete the Windgate Arts District,” Ann Bordelon, AU vice-chancellor of finance and administration, told the board of trustees. ‘UA.

The building will include “professional grade” galleries as well as an auditorium, Bordelon said.

Board documents describe the project as helping the UA School of Art to increase its “presence in the city and the wider region as envisioned by the Windgate Foundation and the Walton Family Charitable Support Foundation.”

In 2017, UA announced a donation of $ 120 million from the family of Walmart founder Sam Walton, with the money primarily going to expand academic programs, hire faculty, and bolster financial support for students. students.

AU acting chancellor Charles Robinson supported the Windgate Galleries project, according to a letter presented to trustees, but was absent from the meeting held at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.

Robinson was in Houston, Texas after his mother passed away earlier in the week, Laura Jacobs, chief of staff in the AU Chancellor’s Office, said in an email.

Members of a board committee approved New York-based Tod Williams Billie Tsien as an architect, working with Polk Stanley Wilcox, an architectural firm with offices in Fayetteville and Little Rock.

Tod Williams Billie Tsien is the company that designs the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park in Chicago. Construction on Project Obama – described by The Associated Press as costing around $ 830 million, with funding from private donations – began earlier this year.

The AU board committee rejected the university’s main recommendation, architectural firm Adjaye Associates working with Cooper Robertson.

Adjaye Associates is the company founded by Sir David Adjaye – designer of the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC – and has offices in Ghana, UK and New York.

But the firm Adjaye Associates sought to work with another New York-based firm, Cooper Robertson, and the committee opted for an architectural team that included a firm from Arkansas.

Ahead of the committee’s vote, Ted Dickey, an investment fund manager and board directors, said he would vote against the Ajaye Associates team.

He said state businesses are made up of “families who send their students to our schools and use our doctors in hospitals, donate to our universities, pay taxes,” and he noted that two teams of architecture were rated in the same way by a selection committee.

The recommendation to the board was based on a ranking made previously by 10 members of an AU selection committee, which included representatives from the UA School of Art as well as other campus officials.

As part of the ranking process, members of the selection committee were asked to rank five architecture teams from one to five, one being the highest.

“If you take a look at the scoring system, a [architecture team] got six ‘one’ and one got four ‘one’, “said Donald Bobbitt, president of UA System.” That’s a point, and you could reverse a vote and end up in a bind. “

Sheffield Nelson, a retired attorney and member of the Little Rock board of directors, said “when it’s that close, that’s where we should take a closer look.”

Dickey put forward a motion to select Tod Williams Billie Tsien’s team, with the committee voting in his favor without any opposition. The committee selected Clark Contractors, which has offices in Little Rock and Bentonville, to manage the construction, which was UA’s main recommendation.

Bordelon told administrators that the idea of ​​fostering a team of architects with an Arkansas firm came as no surprise.

“We ourselves have had this conversation internally,” said Bordelon, adding that the final choice made by the trustees “is a very reputable architectural firm”.

She added: “I don’t think we would leave this room thinking that we have been defeated by any stretch of the imagination.”

In 2019, principals at Princeton University sued architectural firm Tod Williams Billie Tsien for their work on a campus project, the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment. Major construction was completed in 2015, according to the Princeton website.

Princeton lawsuit claims delays and other issues resulted in as much as $ 10.7 million in damages, with sub-consultants later named as defendants and counterclaims filed in the case still pending before the United States District Court in New Jersey. In court documents, the firm Tod Williams Billie Tsien denied that any design requiring additional work was the fault of the firm.

The architectural teams responded to a request for qualification describing the Windgate Galleries project as having various components totaling approximately 32,000 square feet.

The building is expected to have approximately 6,000 square feet of galleries that “will allow for museum loans, traveling exhibitions and joint projects with Crystal Bridges of American Art,” according to the qualification request.

Various major building components are expected to include a 4,000 square foot auditorium, a 6,000 square foot manufacturing lab and what is designated in the qualification request document as a 2,000 foot art and entrepreneurship lab. squares “that promote dialogue, discovery and practice at the intersection of culture, commerce and civic sphere.”

Construction on the Windgate Galleries project is scheduled to begin in February 2023, and the project is expected to be completed in the summer of 2024.

It will be next door to the Windgate Studio and Design Center, which is slated to open next fall, according to the qualification request document.


William E. Bennett