Architecture’s Arboretum

Nov. 05, 2021 - Jan. 21, 2022

A room filled with person-sized cardboard trees inside

The “Architecture’s Arboretum” exhibition on display Nov. 5 through Jan. 21 in the Fred and Mary Smith Exhibition Gallery in Vol Walker Hall originated at Princeton University School of Architecture in fall 2019. (Photo by Shark Senesac)

The exhibition “Architecture’s Arboretum” will be on display Friday, Nov. 5, through Jan. 21, in the Fred and Mary Smith Exhibition Gallery in Vol Walker Hall on the University of Arkansas campus. This is part of the public exhibition series in the Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design, now resuming in fall after the pandemic year away.

An opening reception will be held at 4:45 p.m. Nov. 5.

The exhibition is curated by Sylvia Lavin, a professor of History and Theory of Architecture at Princeton University. The exhibition originated as “Architecture Arboretum” at Princeton University School of Architecture in fall 2019.

“Architecture’s Arboretum” explores the use of trees in architectural design throughout history. Although glass, concrete and steel are commonly thought of as exemplarily modern, trees may well have been the first resource drawn into the procedures that modernized architectural materials.

Since at least the 17th century — when extensive ship-building led to deforestation and the first energy crisis — to the 19th century — when blights inducted them into the era of extinction — trees have served as the avant-garde for the human redesign of the earth.

Exactly how trees were transformed into commodities varied widely, but 20th century techniques of architectural representation played a pivotal role in managing the process.

“Architecture’s Arboretum” brings together materials from historic displays that heroicized wood’s dimensional plasticity, from Fay Jones’ building sites that were organized as stages on which construction was performed, and from a wide array of drawings by architects that served less to represent trees than as opportunities to fabricate new arboreal species. The goal of the exhibition is to call attention to modernity’s cult of the natural and its simultaneous abstraction of something that architects can no longer call the natural world, with ramifications for the contemporary moment of climate change.

This exhibition also includes photographs by James Reed that document the site and construction of Thorncrown Chapel in Eureka Springs, which was designed by Fay Jones. All photographs of Thorncrown Chapel are courtesy of University of Arkansas Libraries, Special Collections, and Douglas Reed.

Sylvia Lavin, who did the curatorial design for the exhibition, received her doctorate from the Department of Art and Archaeology at Columbia University after having received fellowships from the Getty Center, the Kress Foundation, and the Social Science Research Council. Prior to her appointment at Princeton, Lavin was a professor in the Department of Architecture and Urban Design at UCLA, where she was chairperson from 1996 to 2006 and the director of the Critical Studies M.A. and Ph.D. program from 2007 to 2017.

Lavin is the recipient of an Arts and Letters Award in Architecture from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Her most recently published books include Kissing Architecture (Princeton University Press, 2011) and Flash in the Pan (Architectural Association, 2015). Her curatorial work includes “Everything Loose Will Land: Art and Architecture in Los Angeles in the 1970s,” an exhibition supported by the Getty Foundation in Los Angeles, New Haven, and Chicago, and “Architecture Itself and Other Postmodernists Myths” at the Canadian Center for Architecture in 2018.

The exhibition design is by Erin Besler/Besler & Sons. Exhibition coordinators are Alexandra Waller, instructor in architecture, and Charles Sharpless, assistant professor in interior design, in the Fay Jones School. Exhibition assistants are Christina Moushoul and Jessica Fraley.

Special thanks go to Dean Peter MacKeith, Associate Dean Ethel Goodstein-Murphree, Jason Wright and Modus Studio, Angie Carpenter, Corey Booth, Justin Tucker, Jared Davenport, Austin Phillips, Hunter Craig, Fay Jones School staff, Christina Rhoades, Cat Wallack and University of Arkansas Libraries Special Collections. 

Admission to the exhibition is free. The exhibition gallery is located on the first floor of Vol Walker Hall, and it is open to the public from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays.