Design Award Winners (2020)

The Thaden School Reels Building

Project Overview

The Thaden School is a new independent middle and high school in Bentonville, Arkansas. The school is endowed and structured to allow students from all socio-economic backgrounds to attend. The 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, as well as organizations promoting health, physical activity, bicycling, and community service, the school provides students with opportunities to learn both on and off Campus. The school's "whole student / whole body" pedagogy features learning opportunities both indoors and outdoors.

The Reels building transforms the simple, vernacular form of a poultry house with subtle shifts in plan and section into a spacious, light-filled academic building. Bifurcated to become a ‘Y’ shaped plan, the Reels building has a predominantly east-west orientation to control solar gain. The split in plan also reduces the overall length while ensuring each of the academic spaces within have ample daylight. Controlled opening at the perimeter are complemented by skylights to bring daylight deep inside. In the center of the building, a large, covered breezeway connects the three wings, providing space to gather and have outdoor classes. The faceted, folded form provides each space with its own sectional character with ever-changing light conditions, reaching out to the landscape and bringing in the sky.

The material palette is simple: a green-gold metal shell, composed with syncopated ribs, gives way to carefully placed openings and large entry porches accented with gray FRP panels and plywood ceilings. These wood ceilings extend indoors, punctuated by skylights and highlighting the main circulation for students. Inside, the highest spaces are reserved for circulation, the places where all the students gather and access their lockers. The interior material palette remains simple but powerful, with a wooden ceiling and painted walls, occasionally colorful, washed with daylight. Carefully placed areas of carpet help control acoustics, while complementing the tone of the polished concrete floors.

At the southern end, the roof springs upwards, gesturing to the main road at the historic Thaden home nearby. The sudden change in height balances the otherwise long, low form of the Reels building, bringing in light and marking it as a critical component in the pedagogy of the Thaden School. Integrated into a network of pedestrian pathways and a larger network of trails that extend throughout Northwest Arkansas, the Reels building transform a building type upon which the region was built – the poultry house – into its future, one of education and wellness.