The University of Arkansas Community Design Center’s design for the Trailhead Complex at the Maumelle Nature Center has won a 2015 American Architecture Award from The Chicago Athenaeum: Museum of Architecture and Design and The European Centre for Architecture Art Design and Urban Studies.

Chosen from more than 1,000 submissions from architecture firms across the United States, the 60 award winners were new buildings, commercial and institutional developments, and urban planning projects designed or built since 2012.

This is the seventh Community Design Center project to receive an American Architecture Award. The center is an outreach program of the Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design.

The Trailhead Complex project was commissioned by Central Arkansas Water as part of its reforestation initiative of the former Winrock Grass Farm, as a water supply protection measure within the Lake Maumelle watershed outside of Little Rock. The design was completed in association with Geosyntec Consultants and the Watershed Conservation Resource Center.

“We are pleased by the national recognition of our work for Central Arkansas Water and look forward to the trailhead complex’s eventual construction,” said Steve Luoni, director of the Community Design Center. “The complex will become the public face to larger riparian corridor improvements already underway in this reforestation initiative, providing a ‘sensory-laden’ architecture uniquely responsive to engagements with nature.”

Luoni is also a Distinguished Professor of architecture and the Steven L. Anderson Chair in Architecture and Urban Studies in the Fay Jones School.

The design of the complex, which will cover 10,000 square feet and cost about $3 million once built, consists of five basic components — a low-impact development parking garden, visitors hall, outdoor classroom, meadow walkscape and lookout tower — each of them demonstrating features and exhibits that support environmental conservation.

The environmental education center is conceived as an exhibit landscape that curates visitors’ passage through unique ecological facilities, landscapes and architectural structures. It is intended to create memorable experiences that reenergize visitors’ regard for environmental systems. The design of the components amplifies the educational functions through “strangemaking” approaches that emphasize contrasts between the natural and the artificial. Strangemaking is used by artists and educators to encourage discovery by making something familiar come across as strange.

A visitors hall is tucked within the forested hillside of a meadow-forest area, re-creating the effect of a forest canopy and serving as a sheltered, multipurpose gateway between highland and lowland. The outdoor classroom is a modified amphitheater that navigates the 30-foot elevation drop to the meadow walkscape, a wildflower meadow that contains micro-lawns for lounging and picnicking, children’s play areas and public art displays.

The lookout tower marks the limits of the trailhead complex and is used as a landmark to guide visitors throughout the park. The parking garden is a low-impact, stormwater-treatment landscape bordered by walls made from river cane and grounded with pervious surfaces of granulated rock, porous pavers and rain gardens.

The Trailhead Complex also won a 2013 Unbuilt Architecture and Design Award from the Boston Society of Architects and a 2015 Honor Award from the Florida/Caribbean chapter of the American Institute of Architects.

The American Architecture Awards, now in its 21st year, is a centerpiece of The Chicago Athenaeum and the European Centre’s efforts to identify and promote best practices in all types of architectural development and to bring a global focus to light of the best new designs from the United States. It is the only national and global program of its kind.

“America’s most prominent architecture firms have all made the grade and show why the United States architectural talent and ambition is famed around the world. The American Architecture Awards are awarded to U.S. architects who have made the biggest contribution to the evolution of American architecture in a given year,” said Christian Narkiewicz-Laine, president of The Chicago Athenaeum.

The 60 award-winning projects will be premiered at the third Chicago Architecture Biennial this November. The exhibition, called The City and the World, combines the 2015 International Architecture Awards with the 2015 American Architecture Awards. After Chicago, the exhibition is scheduled to travel to Izmir, Turkey, at the Chamber of Turkish Architects-Izmur Branch, and then to The European Centre’s Contemporary Space Athens in Athens, Greece.

AuthorLinda Komlos