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Exploring Architecture: What’s Up with the Roofs?

Construction

CopperYou can’t walk through Crystal Bridges without noticing a number of very unique design choices—the location, the building materials, the layout. It’s a beautiful and complex structure. But what’s up with the roofs?

Designed to mimic the rolling hills of Arkansas’s landscape, the roofs at Crystal Bridges are full of intriguing features. First of all, there’s the copper—184,290 pounds of it. The copper on the roofs, like many of the Museum’s building materials, will change in appearance with the passing of time. Eventually, the metal will appear subdued as it oxidizes and acquires a rich brownish patina.

Construction

A view of the Museum’s dining bridge under construction.

Next, there’s the fact that the suspension roofs were constructed before the building had any walls. Construction went:   foundation, roofs, then walls. The suspended roof systems seen in the Great Hall, dining bridge, and gallery bridge are supported using cable suspension—no walls necessary. Two 4-inch-diameter cables support the weight of the laminated arched beams, copper, and glass above them, as well as much of the weight of the floor-to-ceiling windows! The wooden beams are connected directly to the cables, and had to be installed in a precise sequence when the Museum was constructed.

But, why suspension?

GlassUsing a suspension structure to support the weight of the roofs eliminates the need for other supports. In the absence of these load-bearing walls and pillars, a feeling of complete openness is created. There’s nothing obstructing a 360 degree view—just art and glass. These glass walls are connected by special flexible hardware to the roof system, allowing for movement during temperature fluctuations.

From the collonade at the Museum's entrance, guests can get a good look at the Store's green roof.

From the collonade at the Museum’s entrance, guests can get a good look at the Store’s green roof.

Finally, there is the roof on top of the Museum Store, where there is no copper to be seen. The top of the Store is simple and unobtrusive when compared to the monumental concrete and metal structures around it. It really seems to just blend with the surrounding landscape, which makes sense—it’s a “green roof.” Several different plants (and the occasional bit of wildlife) populate the Store roof throughout the year, creating a pleasant natural transition from architecture to nature.

So, if you have a chance to visit Crystal Bridges, don’t forget to take a moment to look away from the artwork and gaze up. No matter where you are, you’ll probably see something pretty neat.

Take a tour of Crystal Bridges with Museum founder and board chairwoman Alice Walton and architect Moshe Safdie as they reminisce about the process of designing a museum with the goal of uniting art, nature, and architecture on Crystal Bridges YouTube Channel.

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