Reels Building, Thaden School

Architecture firm: Marlon Blackwell Architects

Owner: Thaden School

Location: Bentonville, Ark.

Category: Merit

Project site: Previously developed

Building program type(s): Education - K-12 school

Evoking the form of an Ozark chicken house, the Reels Building at the Thaden School, an independent middle and high school in Bentonville, Arkansas, is a light-filled academic building where narrative and visual communication come alive through filmmaking. The building is a critical component of the school’s innovative curriculum and master plan, which shaped its overall campus. Working in concert with the school’s other signature programs—named Meals and Wheels—the building engages students in multiple fields of study and encourages them to be active in their community in ways that build self-confidence and a strong sense of social responsibility.

The Reels Building, rooted in a deep respect and understanding for the region’s agricultural past, heralds the broader intentions of the school, and its expressive form reaches out to embrace the community and the landscape. From its urban pastoral campus, this modern venue for education simultaneously looks ahead and to the past to combine contemporary notions of urban development with agricultural vernacular. Through its articulation, the building speaks to a specific green found in the native Arkansas ecosystems that have been rekindled on campus.

“This humble yet beautiful project speaks to the surrounding land and tells a story about the local culture and surrounding community." - Jury comment

The primary function of the building is to house the school’s Reels program, which provides a platform for creation and the study of film, photography, podcasts, and other media. The program demanded highly functional, technologically focused spaces that can adapt to rapidly changing needs. On a fundamental level, the building references the long, low forms of the Ozarks, oriented east to west to control solar exposure. This simple organization naturally accommodates flexible spaces suited for the program.

Administrative offices, social studies, and a science lab comprise the building’s three wings, all gathered beneath one roof and united by a shared entry porch. The bifurcation of the plan and the faceting of the building’s roof offer steady and subtle changes to its form, creating variety in the plan and lighting conditions. Inside, the building offers significant economy, with efficient and straightforward classrooms, labs, and offices, all of which enjoy a direct connection to the landscape through generous windows and natural light that streams in through the building’s skylights.

“The down-to-earth building utilizes a traditional layout while playing with light and views. The siting is beautiful.” - Jury comment

The Reels Building is an integral part of a larger site and building ecosystem that addresses local ecology, water, and energy use. Stormwater is collected on the roof of the building, where it is channeled through integral gutters and downspouts, and stored in retention areas in the landscape. The harvested water is used to irrigate gardens that are part of the Meals program, and the crops are used to feed students and teach them about biology, agriculture, and cooking.

Beneath the campus quad, a geothermal energy plant provides heating and cooling to all campus buildings, significantly increasing the efficiency of energy delivery. Students actively engage the campus water and energy systems in their coursework, and the Reels Building itself has been the subject of study for mathematics and film classes.

Additional information

Project attributes

Year of substantial project completion: 2017

Gross conditioned floor area: 32,000 sq ft

Project team

Engineer - Civil: Ecological Design Group

Engineer – MEP: CMTA Consulting Engineers

Engineer - Structural: Engineering Consultants Inc.

General Contractor: Milestone Construction Company

Landscape Architect: Andropogon Associates

Lighting: TM Light

Photographer: Timothy Hursley


Diego Barrera, AIA (Chair), Stantec, Plano, Texas

Richey Madison, AIA, SmithGroup, Los Angeles

Xuemei Zhu, Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas

Pam Loeffelman, FAIA, DLR Group, Estes Park, Colo.

Oswaldo Rivera-Ortiz, Assoc. AIA, Dallas Independent School District, Dallas

Image credits

exterior at dusk

Timothy Hursley

aerial view of the campus

Timothy Hursley

central breezeway

Timothy Hursley

corridor interior

Timothy Hursley

building exterior, morning

Timothy Hursley