Don’t blame the children and parents of northwest Arkansas for taking wood’s role in the success of the Scott Family Amazeum for granted. There’s a reason why it’s easy for families to overlook the welcoming drama of the glulam canopy outside or a wood-crafted climbing gym inside: They’re having too much fun learning.

It’s fitting that the Scott Family Amazeum is, well, an amazing exhibition of building materials. After all, the chief mission of the $12.2 million, 52,000-square-foot discovery museum “encourages creativity, curiosity, and community.” What better way to do that than with a structure that dramatically showcases concrete, steel, glazing, and wood playing exceptionally well together?

Star billing for the Bentonville, Ark., facility arguably goes to wood for the way it is used by project architect Reb Haizlip, FAIA, and his design team at Memphis-based Haizlip Studio to complement its renowned neighbor, the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.

Jeremy Jacobs

Living Design Lab

“The precedent was set by Moshe Safdie, Crystal Bridges’ architect,” explains Haizlip. “Crystal Bridges is, in part, a magnificent wood composition, truly poetic and stunning. The Amazeum in turn explores the use of structural wood, particularly glue-laminated materials.”

For visitors, that structural exploration starts with the sweeping, soaring drama of the exposed structural deck of a Southern Pine glulam roof. The use of exposed glulam was used for the exposed structural beams. By design, building connections are visible wherever possible. “The owner requested that building connections be bare, lean, and muscular so kids could understand the physicality of the building,” Haizlip says.

Structural Workhorse

Glulam joists span the building’s 25-foot width and support 18-inch by 10.5-inch glulam beams. The beams are engineered to appear to run continuously across the lobby to the signature 34-foot long west-facing canopy. The three-story high canopy presents beams and joists on a single plane, enhancing the entrance’s visual drama. Wood is also central to the lobby ceiling: 3-inch-wide tongue-and-groove pine decking completes the overhead natural effect.

Wood vs. Sound

Ken Peterson

For acoustic control, Haizlip also turned to wood’s structural performance. Maple grilles were installed at the ceiling and turn 90 degrees down the wall to provide excellent sound absorption for the lobby and café areas. To help mitigate solar gain on the southern flank, the pergola was constructed with cedar. “If there’s a major public space, we used glue-laminated wood,” Haizlip observes.

Code officials and the fire marshal had no concerns with the construction plans. “Code compliance was never an issue,” reports Haizlip. “Glulam structures are well-known for their natural fire resistance.”

Record Attendance

Meeting the budget was achieved without surprise, too. Off-site fabrication of wood components minimized installation complications. The Amazeum delivered on time, Haizlip says, “for an amazing square-foot price.”

In the months following its July 2015 opening, the Amazeum more than lived up to its name. Feasibility studies projected annual attendance at 165,000, a generous forecast for a town of fewer than 50,000 people. “The museum blew past that in the first six months and has topped 350,000 the first year,” Haizlip says.

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