ARTS & CULTURE
Architecture at Home: A New Outdoor Architecture Exhibition at Crystal Bridges
By Erica Harmon
R. Buckminster Fuller, Fly’s Eye Dome, 1961, fabricated ca. 1980, fiberglass-reinforced polyester, 38 x 50 x 50 ft. Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas, 2015.15. Courtesy, The Estate of R. Buckminster Fuller. Photos by Stephen Ironside.
What makes a house a home? Is it the people, the place, a relationship with nature, belongings, design or architecture? Or is it a combination of all the above?
Architecture at Home, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art’s outdoor architecture exhibition, hopes to spark a dialogue about contemporary housing among the trees of the museum’s campus. Exhibited along the Orchard Trail as it makes its way down to the museum’s main entrance, the show features five interactive prototypes, developed by five award-winning architecture firms, to articulate the many ways in which we could live. Visitors are able to walk in around each of the prototypes to explore the building and design elements.
In the center of the exhibition sits R. Buckminster Fuller’s Fly’s Eye Dome, another prototype for an experimental home in a different generation. The dome could be made out of lightweight material (although still strong enough to withstand heavy snow loads or earthquakes) and could be air delivered. This one would be constructed of lightweight fiberglass and feature circular openings, or “oculi,” in a pattern similar to the lenses of a fly’s eye.
By 1981, Fuller had developed three prototypes: a 12-foot, a 24-foot and a 50-foot version. Crystal Bridges acquired the 50-foot structure in 2016 after it was restored by architectural historian Robert Rubin. This dome has not been shown in the U.S. since its first appearance at the 1981 Los Angeles Bicentennial. Fuller’s work continues to inspire artists and architects today.
Instead of thinking about architecture as only accessible to figures like Frank Lloyd Wright, this exhibition aspires to show how building and housing design affect all of us — from our relationships to our habits and how we live our daily lives. There is beauty and artistry in shelter, and there is also practicality in building based on the land we inhabit, the materials we use and how we can make housing work for everyone.
The five architecture firms participating in the exhibition are studioSUMO, LEVENBETTS, MUTUO, PPAA (Perez Palacios Arquitectos Asociados), and studio:indigenous.
studioSUMO, a research-driven practice founded by the architects and educators Yolande Daniels and Sunil Bald, is informed by a humanist approach to architecture that expands and evolves the field to serve constituents and communities.
LEVENBETTS approaches architecture from the mindset of an artist. Stella Betts’ and David Leven’ exploration of shape, form and structure is essential to their creative process, counterbalanced by a belief that architecture must connect with and support the people who live in it.
MUTUO’s practice is informed by their upbringing and education in Brazil and Mexico. Fernanda Oppermann and Jose Herrasti have been developing “affordable-by-design” housing solutions that simplify construction while addressing the question of what makes a home.
PPAA is driven by an architecture of ideas rather than an architecture of forms. Based in Mexico City, Pablo Perez leans on the beauty of materials to ground the firm’s work in the history of a place while creating forms that signal their difference in articulating space.
studio:indigenous explores the stories, architectural traditions, and needs of Indigenous people. Chris Cornelius’ research and practice opens up the architectural translation of culture. The firm’s work primarily serves Indigenous clients across North America, emerging from the earth in support of the tradition, beliefs and needs of each unique project.
These firms are led by architects from diverse backgrounds, cultures and experiences, and each surveyed the needs, challenges and opportunities of the Northwest Arkansas community to develop their prototypes. Fernanda Oppermann and Jose Herrasti from MUTUO and Pablo Perez from PPAA also recently participated in the University of Arkansas Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design Spring 2022 Hybrid Lecture Series.
With Architecture at Home, Crystal Bridges is eager to join a larger, active and ongoing conversation around the concept of home and the realities of housing in our backyard and around the globe.
Architecture at Home is free for all to experience and will be on view beginning June 11 at Crystal Bridges.