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Arkansas Studies Institute Wins National Architecture and Engineering Award

July 20, 2010 from American Institute of Steel Construction

(Chicago, IL) – The Arkansas Studies Institute in Little Rock, Ark., has earned national recognition in the 2010 Innovative Design in Engineering and Architecture with Structural Steel awards program (IDEAS2), and members of the project team will be presented with awards from the American Institute of Steel Construction (AISC) during a public ceremony at the museum at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, July 21. Conducted annually by AISC, the IDEAS2 awards recognize outstanding achievements in engineering and architecture on structural steel projects around the country.

Project team members include owner Central Arkansas Library System, Little Rock, Ark.; architect Polk Stanley Wilcox Architects, Little Rock, Ark.; structural engineer and AISC member Kenneth Jones and Associates, Inc., Little Rock, Ark.; general contractor East Harding, Inc., Little Rock, Ark.

The Arkansas Studies Institute is a recipient of a National Award in the category of projects $15 Million to $75 Million, making it one of only seven projects around the country to receive the National honor. Each year, the IDEAS2 awards honor National and Merit award winners in three categories, based on constructed value: projects less than $15 million; projects $15 million to $75 million; and projects greater than $75 million. Each project is judged on its use of structural steel, with an emphasis on creative solutions to project requirements; design innovation; aesthetic and visual impact of the project; innovative use of architecturally exposed structural steel; technical or architectural advances in the use of steel; the use of innovative design and construction methods; and sustainable design.

The Arkansas Studies Institute, a unique partnership between a metropolitan library and a state university, is a repository for 10 million historic documents and the papers of seven Arkansas governors, including President William Jefferson Clinton.

Located in a thriving entertainment district near the Clinton Presidential Library, the design combines significant but neglected buildings from the 1880s (heavy timber) and 1910s (concrete) with a new technologically expressive steel archive addition, creating a pedestrian focused, iconic gateway to the public library campus and the face of Arkansas history. Public spaces – galleries, a café, and a museum – enliven streetscape storefronts, while a great research hall encompasses the entire second floor of the 1914 building.

“The exposed steel in this building is a great example of how structural steel can be used as an aesthetic feature,” commented Brad Lange, pre-construction manager, The Weitz Company, Des Moines, Iowa, and a judge in the competition.

Because the existing structures could not support the weight capacity needed for the archive collection, a new addition on the 50-ft-wide lot previously used for parking was planned to house three full floors of compact shelving above an open, glass-wrapped “soft story” gallery at street level. Steel was the obvious choice because it provided the required free spans and offered architecturally expressive truss options for the interior gallery. The juxtaposition of heavy document storage above light, open galleries creates an instantly identifiable image for the Arkansas Studies Institute.

In formulating the structural concept, designers studied how the existing buildings’ structures were left exposed, expressing the construction methods of the different centuries in which each was built. The beauty of these structures is in the simple elegance of constructing just what is needed, meaning that all structural systems for this building should be celebrated as part of telling an honest story – the story of the state’s construction history. The goal was to minimize applied ornamentation normally found in a library building, and instead to show the functional detailing of the steel in a beautiful way.

The design philosophy is based literally on the book – a physical container of information, with pages flowing into a site-sensitive, physical narrative of the building’s function. Multiple curving glass walls hang lightly off of the wide-flange and HSS frame of the new addition’s main façade, representing pages of an open book where patrons literally walk through the pages of history, from new to historic spaces.

Between buildings, a thin atrium pulls the new steel structure away to protect the old, stretching the building’s length and flooding all levels with light – a key sustainable strategy. Suspended bridges span the gap between new and old, connecting architectural centuries. This four-story atrium acts as a vertical gallery to tell the state’s story. Steel-framed handrails mimic filmstrips through the height of the space, providing locations for 100 historic images from archives in glass panels.

Locally sources materials tell the story of the states industries, exceeding sustainable requirements for distance to site and recycled content. The steel structure offered manufacturing within the state and 97% recycled content, adding to the fact that steel is the dominant construction material of our time and place. Aluminum curtain wall and skin, making up more than 90% of the exterior, was fabricated just blocks away at a major glazing company.

The 12 IDEAS2 winners for 2010 were chosen from nearly 100 submissions received by architectural and engineering firms throughout the U.S. Each submission is reviewed and award winners are selected by a nationally recognized panel of design and construction industry professionals.

The IDEAS2 awards are the highest project-based awards bestowed by the structural steel industry, with the annual program dating back over 70 years to the earliest years of AISC’s existence. Roger E. Ferch, P.E. president of AISC, said, “The entire Arkansas Studies Institute project team has shown how structural steel can be used to create structures that combine beauty and practicality. The result is a facility that serves the public extremely well, while providing an example of what can be achieved when designing and constructing projects with steel.”

Photos of the Arkansas Studies Institute are available upon request. Please contact Tasha O’Berski at 312.670.5439 or [email protected].


For more information contact:

Tasha O'Berski
Communications Department
(312) 670-5439
[email protected]


American Institute of Steel Construction
The American Institute of Steel Construction, headquartered in Chicago, is a not-for-profit technical institute and trade association established in 1921 to serve the structural steel design community and construction industry. AISC’s mission is to make structural steel the material of choice by being the leader in structural steel-related technical and market-building activities, including: specification and code development, research, education, technical assistance, quality certification, standardization, and market development. AISC has a long tradition of service to the steel construction industry of providing timely and reliable information. 

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