From inside the northernmost gallery space inside the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, director of operations Scott Eccelston would see the potential of the mostly unused green space sprawled out in front of him.
“For five years, I’ve been pressing against the glass,” he said.
So too would visitors of the museum in Bentonville. They would look to the north at the stream and the surrounding open areas, even as world-class art hung just behind them. Or they would struggle to find a way down from the elevated entrance toward the green space. There was a path, but not the most intuitive.
Renowned architect Moshe Safdie and his Boston-based firm designed the new elevator tower and lobby at Crystal Bridges. Safdie designed Crystal Bridges, which opened in 2011. / Photo: Kevin Kinder
All of that is changing courtesy of a new entrance point, a revamped trail system, a commitment to art near that trail and usage of the green space. The new north entrance and new North Forest Trail – the latter still under construction – debuted at a media preview event on Thursday. It will open to the public in phases, with an official debut of the North Forest Trail taking place to coincide with the opening of the temporary exhibit “Chihuly: In the Forest.” The North Lawn, home to the recently purchased “Fly’s Eye Dome” by Buckminster Fuller, will open in July after landscaping, lighting and interpretation panels are installed near the work.
Museum executive director and chief diversity and inclusion officer Rod Bigelow said the new areas are a natural extension of the ever-popular museum, which has welcomed more than 3 million visitors since opening in November 2011.
“We’re thrilled to be able to look at the next evolution of Crystal Bridges,” he said.
The newly designed entrance consists of an elevator tower that climbs 67 feet and connects the North Forest Trail to the springs below via a 100-foot-long elevated bridge. It’s thought that the new bridge provides one of the few views of all the various “bridges” that span the creek and provide the museum its name.
Opening the area provides visitors access to the museum’s largest green space, and its closest point to the Razorback Greenway trail. When the North Lawn opens in July, it will allow riders a direct path. Along with the newly redesigned North Forest Trail, which replaces the former Dogwood Trail, the north side of the museum grounds will complement the trail systems and walkways that surround the museum on all other sides.
“Our whole 120 acres will come alive,” Bigelow said.
Original Crystal Bridges architect Moshe Safdie and his Boston-based firm designed the elevator, lobby and bridge. Safdie’s original blueprint for the museum contained a northern elevator tower. Museum officials decided not to pursue it for many reasons, not the least of which was because the museum wanted to get its doors open.
“We were worn out,” Eccleston said.
Some three million visitors and thousands of trail users have proved the need for this kind of expansion. The new lobby and tower area abuts pre-existing museum walls, and, like the original design, includes extensive copper plating. But where the patina of the copper on the original sections has mellowed, the elevator shines like a new penny.
“It’s a piece of the vocabulary of the building,” Eccleston said.
Work will continue to ready the area for the influx of visitors expected for the Chihuly exhibit, which will be installed both in the North Forest area and in an interior gallery inside the museum. It is the first time Chihuly, known for his elaborate glass works, has assembled an installation in a native forest, the museum said. When Chihuly’s works are removed from the North Forest in November, other artworks, perhaps statues and other elements of the museum’s permanent collection, will be considered for a home there.
The North Lawn area will also be home to educational programming, weddings, artist events and more.
What: North entrance, North Forest and North Forest Trail
When: Pedestrian elevator and walkway opens May 27; North Lawn opens in July
Where: Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville
Information: Call 479-418-5700 or visit crystalbridges.org