Creating art that inspires art.

University of Arkansas – Fort Smith


Fort Smith, Arkansas




57,000 square feet


2016 Learning By Design Honorable Mention for University Design

WER designed the new Windgate Art & Design building to embrace the University of Arkansas-Fort Smith campus and community. Opportunities were created to highlight the craft of art not only within but also outside the building. There is a greater porosity at the ground floor to entice art patrons inside. Immediately they are enveloped in the art of students, local talent and traveling exhibits in the gallery areas.

The 3-story building includes art studios, computer labs, a wood shop, lecture hall, critique spaces on each floor and a photography studio. The majority of studio spaces have a consistent character and function so that, without too much trouble, they are interchangeable to address surges of interest in the coming years. Function specific studios for screen-printing and letterpress have been tailored to unique equipment and processes.

Our biggest challenge was figuring out a way to define this building, to do justice to the inspirational art program that resides on this campus…architecture in many respects is art after all. We wanted to embrace technology and highlight craft. For us, this goes to how a building is constructed. Much of the building has exposed structure and supporting systems. The intent is that these systems become art themselves in how they interface with each other and reveal how they are constructed.

Our concept for the exterior facades pays homage to Piet Mondrian. Abstract in his own right, we liked how Mondrian layered his rhythmic, yet basic forms, with brushwork to provide depth. Mondrian, like WER, was not afraid of white space. This building does not overshadow the work going on inside. Our goal was to leave this building as a canvas full of white space, a backdrop for the creativity of the artists inside it.

Windgate Art & Design – University of Arkansas Fort Smith

The building was designed to celebrate collaboration. The central stair is an organizing element to connect the various programs within the facility. It integrates a student hangout space on all floors that also serves as an impromptu critique area. Seeded among the seat risers are outlets and USB plugs to charge devices.

“WER Architects/Planners demonstrated compassion for, and understanding of, our needs. From the beginning it was evident that their vision was innovative, comprehensive and committed to the creation and completion of a meaningful form that addressed our needs and provided an answer for the physical and philosophical requirements of our program. They demonstrated an appreciation for, and took the time to fully understand, who we are and how we think and function as an art department and how we serve the university and the community as a meaningful component of the culture. The effect is jaw-dropping and the affect will be grand and long term.”

Don Lee
Head of Art Department
University of Arkansas-Fort Smith