It took two years to build the Crystal Bridges Museum in Bentonville, Ark., a world-class art museum founded by Alice Walton, heir to the Walmart fortune. The museum houses a priceless collection of art housed in buildings designed by the internationally acclaimed architect Moshe Safdie. The buildings themselves were built as bridges that link the ponds at the site fed from the museum’s namesake, Crystal Springs.
As part of the project, an impressive museum store was incorporated to complete the visitor experience and offer remembrances of the impressive artwork on display. The interior of the museum store, designed by Marlon Blackwell, shared the vision of water and nature with a stunning ceiling profile made up of 225 parallel segments, each with different lengths, sweeping around a circular radius.
The museum turned to Adam Weaver at UDI, Inc., an architectural millwork company in Rogers, Ark, to bring this vision to life.
“Working on a historic project like this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said Weaver. “Everything needed to be first-class since the museum was founded by the Walton Family Foundation, spans five centuries of American art, and teamed up with museums such as the Louvre in Paris and Atlanta’s High Museum of Art to share the finest American art.”
From Design to Delivery
Weaver determined that each of the 225 ceiling segments translated into an 8-foot-tall piece of plywood, up to 40 feet long. Each piece would also have several joints, some which had to be removable to accommodate mechanical systems. Weaver chose cherry plywood with j-core to minimize voids. Because the plywood would be seen on both sides, Weaver went with A-A grade. The materials would also have to be environmentally friendly.
“No-added urea formaldehyde plywood was specified because it would be better for the environment and for the employees,” said Weaver.
This already challenging order was further complicated by the project deadline. The opening gala was just seven weeks away and there was work to be done.
Weaver began contacting distributors who could provide materials to fulfill the order. BlueLinx was able to fulfill the material requisition with Timber Products’ GreenT Hardwood Plywood and within four weeks.
“Timber Products provided us with 480 custom sheets of plywood on a short lead time and within our budget. It was a huge relief,” said Weaver.
UDI, Inc. put the sheets through the CNC router to cut to the specific needs, manufactured the joints for the wood and joined the pieces.
“We planned for a few mistakes, but we were able to cut with quality precision thanks to the materials,” said Weaver. “We were very pleased with the consistency of the plywood from Timber Products.”
In fact, they had only two mis-cuts and out of 1,200 joints, just one was incorrect. Each segment could have been comprised of up to six pieces but had to have the appearance of one solid piece. Consequently, the joints became critical both for appearance and strength. Weaver and his team decided on a half lap joint for the strength, making the thickness of the sheets even more important.
Beauty and Function
Weaver’s team began building out the space and met their deadline for a successful opening gala.
“At first people don’t look up when they come into the store, but then they notice the cabinets set into the profile and follow the lines up to the ceiling. It’s a beautiful design. Simple and elegant,” said Weaver.
According to Blackwell, the finished design of the museum store has been compared to the underside of a mushroom, with the ribs creating visual movement along the surface. The design itself is practical – it provides shade from the western sun – and it complements the collections for sale in the museum store, including home décor by Simon Pearce and Michael Aram and original works by local artists.
“The Crystal Bridges Museum is a work of art housing some of the finest pieces from American artists. I’m proud that Timber Products is part of a tribute to American creativity,” said Roger Rutan, Vice President of Timber Products. “The museum store is equally dramatic and will undoubtedly inspire young artists and architects as well.”
*This article was originally published on Woodworking Network's "Panel Talk".