The key concepts of this final scheme were to allot each of the functions its own building and to align the biggest of the structures perpendicular, rather than parallel, to the river. The change in alignment created a dynamic relationship with both the railroad bridge and the surrounding landscape.
In fact, the overall key to the aesthetic success of the complex is the dynamic relationship between the architecture and the land.
From certain points the library resembles a great ship preparing to propel itself across the Arkansas River. A fountain spreads before it, and in the distance is an old, rusty bridge, a relic from Little Rock's days as a railway hub.
(Above Photos Ricky Carioti -- The Washington Post)
Thanks to an inspired collaboration between the Polshek Partnership and landscape architect George Hargreaves (design director of Hargreaves Associates of Cambridge, Mass.), 28 acres of industrial wasteland were transformed into a welcoming, socially useful and strikingly beautiful sequence of spaces and experiences.
Fortunately, the landscape architect was hired early enough in the process to participate in the exact siting of the buildings. It was Hargreaves, Polshek recalls, who initially suggested that a slight change in the street grids east of Interstate 30 -- between the downtown grid and that of the Clinton Center site -- be reflected throughout the design.
Thus, the differences are clearly marked not only in the siting of the Clinton Center buildings but also in floor patterns and pathway alignments. In a subtle but important way, this stratagem adds meaning to the new development by tying it to the city's history.
Hargreaves surrounded the center with a variety of landscaped areas. For instance, there's a formal "contemplation grove" to the east and a row of terraces just outside the archives building that border a shady, paved "Scholars' Garden." Both places doubtless will attract folks to linger when the weather is good.
Most memorable, however, is the boldness of Hargreaves's approach to shaping the land. Like Frederick Law Olmsted a century and a half ago in Central Park, Hargreaves knows that to form a useful space you often have to alter the land dramatically, taking away tons of earth here and adding tons over there.
Olmsted performed such heavy-duty operations to achieve his beloved naturalistic effects. In contrast, Hargreaves shapes the land into abstract polygons so there is no mistaking the human mind and hand. The entire western portion of the new Clinton Park, stretching a quarter-mile or so from the buildings to the I-30 bridge, has been thoroughly transformed into a series of grassy mounds with strong, idiosyncratic forms. The effect is at once powerful and delightful.
There's a certain magic in the transformation, all around.
An existing riverside park has been significantly extended. A derelict slice of urban turf has been given new social purpose. A landscape has been created to provide a bold and satisfying setting for architecture. And, in addition to being a model of environmental responsiveness, the architecture greatly enlivens its surroundings.
This is the way it is supposed to be, but usually isn't, in complex, prestigious projects such as this. Bravo to all involved.