Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art

  • Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art building at night
  • Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art complete
  • Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art ceremony

1 / Introduction

Elegantly placed in the rural Arkansas landscape, the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art is a series of seven concrete, glass and wood pavilions set along a stream bed. Within the complex are permanent and temporary galleries, a library, meeting areas, an auditorium, indoor and outdoor areas for public events, sculpture gardens and walking trails. Central to the 100,000sqft museum are three bridge-like structures that span the stream and create two scenic ponds. These structures are formed by hanging cables and  a series of glued laminated pine timbers (glulam) arches.


Key facts

  • Seven buildings arranged around two landscaped ponds
  • Buildings’ roofs use suspension bridge technology
  • Wood glulams sourced locallly

The Project Details

Client: Walton Family Foundation
Architect: Safdie Associates
BuroHappold services: Structural Engineering, MEP Engineering

2 / Challenge

An architectural vision to create suspended buildings presented a great many challenges. The overriding consideration was the plan for the buildings’ roofs to be suspended. This would require a intricate level of attention to be given to the anchoring of the building supports and the geometric nature of the buildings themselves.

The location’s natural creek bed also needed to be dammed to create the two ponds, and the water had to be kept at a controlled level all year round. Waterproofing the buildings was a key issue here, necessary for conservation of artwork contained inside the structures.

With a natural predominance of porous limestone in the area, water flows beneath the buildings. As such, the foundations would need to accommodate this and prevent water from seeping into the gallery spaces and other areas.

3 / Solution

Our engineers approached the plans for the suspended buildings by adopting bridge construction methodology. By analysing models to create the structures, we determined the best form for the buildings and how best to approach the hanging structures.

Through combining bridge construction methods within our holistic approach to engineering, we provided a solution to meet the needs of the architectural design while maintaining the integrity of the building. To secure the buildings within the normally problematic landscape, we installed anchors in the limestone bedrock to stabilize the surroundings and support the cable network. The suspended nature of the structures, supported by glulam beams, has been accommodated through employing ball and socket connections between the beam supports and cables. This allows for a certain level of building movement since the geometry is different at every point.

Issues of waterflow were tackled with the use of a site drainage system as well as design for uplift and the use of epoxy coated rebar.

Foundation design ultimately relied on the use of minipile technology to reach sound rock and stabilize the site in a cost effective manner.

4 / Value

By applying a thorough, holistic approach at every stage of the design and construction process, we have been able to ensure the realisation of the architectural vision for Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.

The museum has achieved its purpose and, by using local materials, we have managed to reduce construction costs and enhance the sustainability of the buildings, as well as employ local industry.