Isolated in the heart of an urban forest, with a light touch on the land, Fayetteville, Ark.–based Marlon Blackwell Architect’s design for the 1,290-square-foot Ruth Lilly Visitors Pavilion draws inspiration from the structure and form of a fallen leaf. It serves as both threshold and destination within the Indianapolis Museum of Art’s 100-acre Virginia B. Fairbanks Art & Nature Park. Jurors admired the way the pavilion subtly engages visitors by extending long ramps toward the walking paths and gradually lifting people above the forest floor onto the main deck. “The way it slips into the landscape is really gorgeous,” juror Joe Valerio said. The angular deck of ipe wood slats folds back on itself to form an overhead canopy, allowing sunlight and rain to penetrate while enveloping a multipurpose room and support spaces such as a kitchen, restrooms, and office. A glass curtainwall exposes the teaching and event space to the landscape; support spaces are clustered in a fire-resistant core, clad in a charred cedar rainscreen.
Prone to flooding from the adjacent White River, the park offered barely a half-acre of buildable land for the pavilion. Blackwell flanked the pavilion with earth berms, and lifted the deck ever so slightly on columns painted to match the color of the local fauna, giving the impression that it hovers just above the ground. “I really appreciate the change in perception and views as you walk around it … it has a picturesque quality,” juror Hilary Sample said. As a whole, the jury praised the design as “a mature work”—citing examples of the refinement of the design such as the exposed steel exoskeleton and the detailing of the wood deck with alternating strips of clear acrylic. “The architect has taken a comparatively small spatial requirement and made it into something much bigger,” juror Raymund Ryan said.