Stating boldly that a metal building can be cool, a new retail and service center for Arkansas’s premiere provider of Caterpillar equipment redefines an often architecturally maligned building type, expressing CAT's technical and engineering prowess.
The initial expectation was a typical, nondescript, pre-engineered box; however, the desire to communicate a brand defining technical message, combined with the site’s beautiful topography, including a rediscovered 19th-century family burial plot under an equally old tree, triggered an assessment that led to a rethinking of the anticipated solution. A new form diagram reflected a series of articulated constituent elements, highlighting human spaces in full public view while shielding, yet maintaining, the service component’s functional logic. The challenge was to create a dynamic form and customer experience using normal pre-engineered system components in unique ways, all within costs normally associated with this building type.
Thoughtful decisions, no matter the building type, can pay big dividends. The design philosophy is a theme the architects have explored before based on juxtaposition: void and solid, man and machine, public and private, natural and man-made. A human-scaled retail lobby is pulled out as a dynamic, free-standing, light-filled pavilion on a lawn juxtaposed against the solid service components beyond. The pavilion’s roof lifts northward to allow maximum natural light, while sunscreens, combined with the existing tree to the west, filter setting sunlight and protect without compromising views. Expressed structural steel mimics the forms of CAT heavy construction equipment components. The building’s two principal forms, open and solid, are keyed together by the customer service zone between the pavilion and the datum wall, positioned to allow 180-degree views of the site, service entrance, and parts warehouse dock.
The glass pavilion reflects movement of equipment, people, and nature. Its backdrop, a large datum wall, defines the secure zone while serving as a colorful brand defining billboard from the interstate. Parts warehouse and staff support are confined to the solid metal form beyond the wall, followed by the large service bays, minimizing visual impact while offering maximum security. The key design decision — creating a free standing pavilion — enhanced and distinguished the CAT customer experience from their competitors. The architecture states the difference in CAT quality, technical engineering knowledge, and customer experience; the building is a reflection of the company message.