Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art is nestled within a ravine, flanked by two hills set on one hundred and twenty acres of Ozark landscape. Upstream to the south is Crystal Springs and, beyond that, the family residence designed by the celebrated Arkansas architect Fay Jones. The hillsides, which contain a network of trails that lead to downtown Bentonville, are covered with mature growth of oaks, dogwoods and crowned by Arkansas white pine on the crest.
From the outset, we aimed to design a museum in which art and nature are experienced simultaneously and harmoniously. The museum is entered from the crest of the hill, with a dramatic overview of the entire complex. From the parking and drop-off, one descends by stair or elevator to the pond level. The public then circulates from one museum pavilion to the other, circling and crossing the ponds with open vistas all around. The surrounding crown of trees is clearly visible above the roof line of the museum in all directions.
Two bridge-like structures are constructed across the ravine, forming large ponds, with a difference of 12 feet in height, retaining the northbound flow of water. The two ponds form the centerpiece around which the structures that constitute the museum are clustered.
In all, the museum is comprised of eight pavilions, three of which abut the ponds and are sited so that they retain the hillside. Two pavilions span the pond while acting both as dams and bridges. One pavilion – the great hall, is set as apeninsula, connected to the mainland by a curving series of galleries. The museum program includes diverse galleries, , library, educational spaces, a restaurant, a great hall / auditorium with appropriate museum services and a parking structure.
Moving through the museum complex, one flows from inwardly focused spaces, serving as galleries and classrooms to other areas where there are dramatic openings to and views of the surrounding landscape. Moving through galleries, one is continuously reintroduced to the surrounding landscape through the series of glazed passages.