The Momentary, designed by Chicago-based Wheeler Kearns Architects, opens in Bentonville

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The Momentary, designed by Chicago-based Wheeler Kearns Architects, opens in Bentonville
Gallery 1 at the Momentary, Near Main Lobby. Photo: Dero Sanford.

BENTONVILLE, ARK.- The Momentary, a new contemporary art space satellite to Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas, officially opened on February 22, 2020. Led by Chicago-based Wheeler Kearns Architects, the adaptive reuse project saw the 63,000-square-foot decommissioned cheese factory into a multidisciplinary space for visual, performing, and culinary artists.

The firm was tasked with envisioning the Momentary’s aim of creating a space offering a unique experience unlike a traditional museum. The focus was on designing a cultural hub with engaging indoor and outdoor areas that would expand the cultural experiences in Bentonville and bring artists from around the world to the region. The Momentary purposefully overlaps social, performance, and culinary activities with art spaces to champion contemporary art’s role in everyday life.

The Momentary is a new phase in the life of this site. Once a hunting ground for the Osage Nation, the land was turned into an orchard in the 1800s with a railway spur running through the north side of the property. Eagle Flour Mill occupied the site from 1913-1947, at which point it became a cheese processing factory for Kraft Foods until 2013. When approaching the transformation of this building for a new purpose, Wheeler Kearns Architects aimed to keep as much of the existing structure as possible. It deliberately differentiated its additions by using contemporary materials like steel and glass, an open and visible intervention that brings the old and new together in a diverse, but holistic, program. The program includes:

• The Galleries, located in the oldest part of the original building, which spans over 24,000 square feet. The Momentary’s inaugural visual arts exhibition, State of the Art 2020, is the first to feature in the space.

• At 70-feet-tall, The Tower is the largest space in the program allowing for vertical circulation up through multiple pre-existing intermediate mezzanines, which will be used for visual arts, performance, and social events. The exterior of the new addition features glass panels designed by Osage artist Addie Roanhorse, who drew inspiration from Osage attire, paying homage to the site’s history. The design, titled Sway, also features in the entrance and The Container, a glass-enclosed space for events.

• The RØDE House is a multidisciplinary performance space in the old Milk Intake Room which seats upwards of 350 people. The space can either be closed or partially open-air and features an adjustable floor system fabricated by Serapid that allows the room to be reconfigured.

• Once the enclosure for the plant’s massive tank, the Fermentation Hall is a black box theater located in the old Fermentation Room. Taking advantage of the natural acoustic isolation with the precast concrete of the existing space, it features high ceilings and a variable acoustic system developed with Schuler Shook Theatre Designers and Threshold Acoustics. It seats upwards of 100 people in a retractable seating bank.

• On the north end of the building are three dedicated Artist-in-Residence studios designed to accommodate 2D, 3D, and digital artists. The artist-in-residence program invites visual, performing, and culinary artists from around the world to work on their projects.

• Culinary and beverage offerings include The Breakroom, a social space off the galleries in the former employee lunch-room, and a new Onyx Coffee Lab location, designed by Bradley Edwards Architect. At the top of the Tower is the Tower Bar, with interiors designed by James Beard Finalists Jett Butler and Stephanie Leung of FÖDA in collaboration with Wheeler Kearns Architects, which offers stunning panoramic views as well as a floor skylight looking down to the museum below. It is Momentary Friend and Insider-level members only during the day and open to the public as a bar in the evening.

Extensive outdoor space is also incorporated into the overall plan for the Momentary, taking advantage of the natural topography. In collaboration with the Tulsa-based firm Howell Vancuren Landscape Architects, the landscaping includes sculptures, courtyards like the Arvest Bank Courtyard, and the 42,000-ft Momentary Green. On the east side of the Green, a canopy that is 50 feet tall and spans 13,000 square feet has been relocated from Sydney, Australia, where it was originally designed by Japanese company Taiyo for The Domain. It is a focal point for outdoor single and multi-day music festivals, such as FreshGrass | Bentonville, and also a place of shade for the public. As with the building program, sustainability is central to the landscape design, which is designed to purify and clean rainwater before it moves into the creek through a bioswale system that runs along the edge of the pavement which eventually trickles down to the ponds at Crystal Bridges.

Calli Verkamp, Lead Project Architect, remarks that “The Momentary was a great opportunity for Wheeler Kearns Architects to contribute to the thriving region of Northwest Arkansas. Converting the former plant into a contemporary art space was an exciting and unique challenge. Our firm has a long history of working on adaptive reuse projects and Crystal Bridges was committed to this approach from the very beginning. The design centers on authenticity. Embracing the history of the site, it maintains the industrial integrity of the building and preserves the connection between past and present that it represents for the community.”

“Flexibility and adaptability for artists was a high priority for us with the design of the Momentary,” says Lieven Bertels, director of the Momentary. “Wheeler Kearns Architects has done a great job ensuring we will be able to take full advantage of the size of the space, allowing us to show large-scale works and performances. In addition to being a sustainable building method, adaptive reuse serves as a living history much like contemporary art itself,” added Bertels.

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