BENTONVILLE – Heavy traffic on this city’s Walton Avenue begins around 6:15 a.m. and lasts until about 8:30 a.m. A pedestrian crossing the street (using a level crossing prompt and a traffic light) is nonetheless furiously honked at by a guy who tries to make a turn into the spot where she is walking.
Pedestrians are advised to watch out for drivers when stopped here, as many are studying their phones, not the open road, and could swerve at any moment.
We walk out the back door of the hotel around 5:45 a.m. A toy Schnauzer expresses its dominance over the grassy space as we take our dogs Paris and Audi for a bathroom break. The little dog weighs 7 pounds and 8 ounces, his owner says proudly. The little guy is fearless, even at half the size of my two terriers. Dog-friendly accommodations are good conversation starters.
After a coffee, we head out for a sunrise stroll, made more enjoyable once we leave noisy and congested Walton on 28th Street and head towards Phillips Park.
After an hour we return for the hotel breakfast (fresh fruit, waffles, bacon, sausage, cookies, gravy, yogurt, bagels) and more coffee. Then it’s time to shower, pack dog supplies, and take the short drive to the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.
We’re here for a press preview of ‘Architecture at Home’, Crystal Bridges’ first multi-structure outdoor architecture exhibition, which brings together five prototype houses to encourage thinking about contemporary living.
Five architectural firms from across the Americas created 500-square-foot prototypes nestled in the heavily wooded edges of the museum’s Orchard Trail to examine the country’s current housing system. The exhibition, explain the museum’s public relations representatives, aims to contribute to a national conversation “by demonstrating that housing can be beautiful, accessible and connected to something innately human”.
The five architecture firms participating in this exhibition – studioSUMO, MUTUO, PPAA (Perez Palacios Arquitectos Asociados), LEVENBETTS and studio:indigenous – are led by architects from diverse backgrounds, cultures and experiences, we are told. . Each probed the needs, challenges, and opportunities of the Northwest Arkansas community to develop their designs and change ideas about how and where we build, value where we live, and consider materials, regulations, and ways to integrate nature into living spaces.
“We” refers to a group of print, online, audio and TV journalists who regularly gather in this innovative arena to inspect and report on new exhibits. There’s a newcomer to the group, an older woman no one recognizes. Turns out she was walking along Orchard Trail when we embarked on our tour and decided to join us.
“I had no idea she wasn’t in a hurry,” said one of our guides. “Me neither,” said another, “but she asked good questions.”
Around Fly’s Eye Dome, a lightweight and affordable house prototype designed in 1965 by R. Buckminster Fuller, the units are open to visitors and can be explored for free until November 7.
“The impetus for this project is the current housing reality in Northwest Arkansas,” said curator Dylan Turk. “My goal is to prove that affordability, beauty and diversity of housing types can co-exist when designing, regulating and developing housing.”
As we prowl inside and outside the thought-provoking prototypes, a guy walking through the shady paths stops to praise Paris and Audi for their attention to the sights, sounds and smells around them. “They are urban dogs,” I explain; “all this nature fascinates them.” He then goes on to tell me about his pit bull, which he says “has a head as big as a watermelon, with jaws to match, but is gentle as a lamb.” He senses when people are mean, he explains. Luckily, he adds, “there are never bad guys in our house.”
Along with our fellow journalists, museum visitors stop to take care of the little dogs. Our PR manager pulls out his phone to show me photos of his beloved dog, 10 years old and weighing around 36 pounds. “He’s my life,” she said. I nod, understanding what she means.
After insightful remarks from the curator and a long exchange of goodbyes, we return to the frantic traffic of our home base – about three miles from Crystal Bridges; the only accommodation near the museum is the 21c, outside the business trip budget, to organize our evening. I was hoping to swim in the hotel’s indoor pool, but my key card won’t let me in, and the receptionist’s master key can’t do the job either. Something about the humidity, he said.
So place to relax. A take-out dinner at Taziki’s across the street (a short, dangerous walk that demands our attention) includes a lamb burger, veggie gyros, and a kid’s meal called Sneaky Taziki (chicken and cheese in a tortilla grilled) that the dogs can share (hey, they’re on vacation). Other nearby favorites sampled on our many visits here are Azul Tequila, Glasgow’s (despite the name, it’s Tex-Mex), Ramen Nara, King Burrito and Pedaler’s Pub.
No trip to this part of town is complete without visiting Guess Who, a friendly and well-stocked liquor store. There’s always something interesting on sale, and it’s sure to complement our dinner that’s spread across the floor of our hotel room and shared with the dogs while we watch episodes of “South Park.”
Despite the heavy traffic on Walton Boulevard and the need for a reasonably priced hotel near Crystal Bridges, it’s easy to fall in love with Bentonville. I hope the romance will last.
Karen Martin is the editor of Perspective.