Design Award Winners (2023)

Thaden School Wheels Building

Project Overview

“A private school with a public purpose,” Thaden School is a new independent middle and high school in Bentonville, Arkansas. The school’s unique curriculum combines academic excellence with learning by doing and features three signature programs: Wheels (where the fields of physics and mechanics come alive through the construction and use of bicycles and other wheeled machines), Meals (where biology, chemistry, and community come alive through the growing and preparation of food), and Reels (where narrative and visual communication come alive through the production of film and video).

Through its partnerships with nearby community organizations in the visual and culinary arts, bicycling, and community service, the school will provide students with opportunities to learn both on and off campus. The school’s “whole student/whole body” pedagogy will feature learning opportunities both indoors and outdoors.

The campus plan unifies two separate plots by creating a “shared street” on which automobiles, pedestrians, and cyclists can coexist. On either side, campus buildings use a strategy familiar in Arkansas, with long narrow buildings oriented to control the exposure to the intense southern sun and to allow natural ventilation at the eave. These long forms are strategically bent to prevent long internal corridors and to frame gathering spaces outside. The campus itself is a teaching tool as a productive landscape for agriculture and a restorative landscape that addresses flooding and restores native ecosystems.

Home to the signature 'Wheels' program, the Wheels Building creates a public presence for the school by linking the Campus to the Bentonville Square. Situated west of the Student Commons and south of the 'Performance' building, the building opens to the east to create a sense of entrance and arrival. A canopy along Main Street acts as a 'billboard' for the Campus and creates an outdoor workspace for the 'Wheels" lab. Similar to the Arts & Administration Building, the 'Wheels' building roof is a performative response as much as it is a figural expression.

The linear plan of the 'Wheels" building allows for a simple distribution of program along its spine, while signature programs anchor the east and west ends. Covered areas extend student workspaces out of the building, connecting with the outdoors and displaying activity to the Campus and the community. The maker space is located on the student commons where the students and their work are always on display. A large central corridor widens to accommodate student collaboration and study spaces lit from above with a consistent level of daylighting throughout the year.