Crystal Bridges plans an expansion that will boost its size by 50%

The design of new galleries and other spaces is overseen by Moshe Safdie, the Arkansas complex’s original architect

A rendering of an aerial view of an expanded Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art Courtesy of Safdie Architects

A rendering of an aerial view of an expanded Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art Courtesy of Safdie Architects

The Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas announced today that it is planning an expansion overseen by its original architect, Moishe Safdie, that will allow significantly more room for showcasing its collection and for education, cultural programming and community events.

The expansion would add nearly 100,000 sq. ft to the museum's current 200,000 sq. ft pavilion complex, which features concrete walls, bands of red cedar and copper roofs that all react to light and moisture in a forested Ozark setting. Two new buildings pierced with skylights would house galleries, education spaces, studios and event spaces, and a bridge between the two structures with glass walls and skylights would include a café and potentially allow for the display of art that is not sensitive to light. A new circular outdoor event plaza would provide space for outdoor community programming.

Groundbreaking is anticipated in early 2022, and planners hope to complete construction in 2024. Next month the museum will complete a reconfigured main lobby and courtyard that was also designed by Safdie Architects.

The museum says that it is working with concert with Safdie’s firm and Coen+Partners Landscape Architects to develop additional outdoor spaces, art encounters and enhancements to the walking trails on the scenic property.

A rendering of a view from a planned café along a bridge between two new proposed new buildings for the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. The café would overlook a circular plaza intended for public events Courtesy of Safdie Architects

Crystal Bridges, which opened in 2011, has more than doubled its collection since then and has helped to spur economic development in northwest Arkansas by attracting tourists. Admission is free.

Recently the museum has sought to acquire more works by women and people of colour, and in February 2020, shortly before the coronavirus pandemic hit, it opened the Momentary, a 63,000 sq. ft satellite space in Bentonville devoted to contemporary art.

After a three-month closure in response to the pandemic, both sites reopened last June. Benefitting from that relatively early reopening, Crystal Bridges placed seventh in attendance last year among US museums with 353,123 visitors, up from 22nd place in 2019. That was nonetheless a 50% decline from around 700,000 in 2019.

The museum says it has welcomed five million people since it opened in 2011. The Walmart heiress Alice Walton, the founder of Crystal Bridges and the richest woman in the US, said in a statement: “It’s timely to enlarge our building and make sure more people can access these offerings.” Enlisting Safdie Architects for the expansion, she says, “will create a unified experience for enjoying art, nature and architecture.”