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Design Inspiration Can Come From Anywhere, Even Vegetables

Written By: Roger Rutan

Design Inspiration Can Come From Anywhere, Even Vegetables

The next time you head to the grocery story, take a look around. A close look. The surroundings, and even the food, can spark design inspiration when you least expect it.

A recent project for the new Crystal Bridges Museum in Bentonville, Ark., a world-class art museum founded by Alice Walton, heir to the Walmart fortune, proves this point. It was inspired by mushrooms. Let me explain.

As part of the facility, an impressive museum store was incorporated to complete the visitor experience. The interior of the museum store, designed by architect Marlon Blackwell, features a stunning ceiling profile made up of 225 parallel segments, each with different lengths, sweeping around a circular radius.

According to Blackwell, the finished design of the museum store ceiling has been compared to the underside of a mushroom, called lamella, with the ribs creating visual movement along the surface. After viewing the finished project myself, the description is spot on.

How was this design accomplished? The museum turned to Adam Weaver at UDI, Inc., an architectural millwork company in Rogers, Ark., to bring this vision to life.

Weaver determined that each of the 225 ceiling segments would be made with 8-foot-long pieces of plywood connected together to span up to 40 feet in length. Many of the joints had to be removable to accommodate mechanical systems. Weaver chose cherry plywood with j-core to minimize voids. Because the plywood would be seen on both sides, Weaver went with AA grade. The materials would also have to be environmentally friendly and made with no-added urea formaldehyde.

After we delivered 480 custom sheets of plywood, UDI put the sheets through its CNC router to cut to the specific needs, manufactured the joints for the wood and joined the pieces.

Because of the high-quality of the panels, UDI had only two mis-cuts and out of 1,200 joints. Each segment could have been made of up to six pieces but had to have the appearance of one solid piece. Consequently, the joints became critical both for appearance and strength. Weaver and his team decided on a half lap joint for the strength, making the thickness of the sheets even more important.

Early reviews of the store ceiling design are extremely positive. Weaver says at first people don't look up when they come into the store, but then they notice the cabinets set into the profile and follow the lines up to the ceiling. It's been called a beautiful design that is simple and elegant.

Exactly like a mushroom.

Roger Rutan is Vice President of Marketing at Timber Products Company, one of the largest manufacturers of hardwood plywood in the United States.

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