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Impressive museums not limited to big cities

It appears to float above a city of soldiers, looming over the sandy firing ranges and drop zones of Fort Bragg unlike any other building in downtown Fayetteville.
Image: proposed Fayetteville Museum of Art
This artist rendering shows the proposed Fayetteville Museum of Art. In an area best known for the sandy firing ranges and drop zones of Fort Bragg, the design of a proposed art museum stands out.Anonymous / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

It appears to float above a city of soldiers, looming over the sandy firing ranges and drop zones of Fort Bragg unlike any other building in downtown Fayetteville.

Designs for the new home of the Fayetteville Museum of Art also depict a cross-shaped structure with elevated, cantilevered galleries — a cutting-edge building.

It's an ambitious design, not unlike the glass, wood and water of the planned Crystal Bridges art museum in Bentonville, Ark., or the layered forms of steel, patinated zinc and glass in the new art museum in Roanoke, Va.

None of the towns is small, but they're not big name cities, either. Yet they're the latest to strive for more than a simple container in designing a new art museum, instead seeking a signature building that will attract both attention and tourists.

"It speaks volumes about the people that live there, where they're going and what they're thinking about their economic development, their situation in the world," said Tom Grubb, the director of the North Carolina museum.

Grubb's ambition for the museum wasn't limited to the design, but also the designer. The Fayetteville museum hired internationally known architect Enrique Norten, whose projects include a proposed Guggenheim museum in Guadalajara, Mexico.

At first, Norten wasn't interested in a project so small.

"Then we realized it's a project that really, regardless of the size, it changes the life of a whole community," Norten said in an interview from his office in Mexico City. "It has a huge impact on a community. A big project in a very big city can have very little impact, but in a community like that, it would be great."

It's happened before, most notably with architect Frank Gehry's Guggenheim Museum of swirling metal in Bilbao, Spain. The building itself became an attraction, drawing tourists to the city of 350,000 in northern Spain who might have otherwise never made it out of the bustling capital of Madrid or the cosmopolitan Barcelona.

"The building itself by a signature architect is part of the art, a demonstration in 3-D form of artistic principals," said Jason Hall, a spokesman for the American Association of Museums. "It fundamentally comes down to if you decide as a community that you want to have a museum, it seems like an increasing number of folks are contemplating the idea of creating not just a building, but a signature building."

That's the case in Roanoke, a community of about 92,000 in the Blue Ridge mountains of western Virginia that's hundreds of miles from the nearest "big" city. The 81,000-square-foot, $66 million Art Museum of Western Virginia, designed by "green" architect Randall Stout of Los Angeles, should be finished next summer.

The building is "representative of where the city wants to go and where it wants to see itself _ forward, contemporary, vibrant," said Kimberly Templeton, the museum's director of external affairs.

In Bentonville, a city of 32,000 that's best known as the home of Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the $50 million Crystal Bridges Museum was designed by renown Israeli-American architect Moshe Safdie, whose projects include the new Holocaust History Museum at Jerusalem's Yad Vashem memorial. It's backed by Alice Walton, whose father founded Wal-Mart, and will house works by Winslow Homer, Edward Hopper and Asher B. Durand.

The Fayetteville project is small by comparison, expected to cost between $12 million and $15 million. It will emphasize sculpture, to be placed not only in the museum but also outside in the city's Festival Park. With a population of 168,000, Fayetteville is larger than both Roanoke and Bentonville, with a lingering image as "Fayettenam" _ a military town packed with little more than bars and tattoo parlors.

A unique building can help create an additional identity for a community, Hall said, something that cities nationwide, regardless of size, are learning.

"I think Fayetteville and many other middle cities in the United States sort of are recognizing the value of good architecture," Norten said. "Communities have gotten sophisticated enough to demand better buildings in their towns."