Thaden School

“Life is like riding a bike. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.” - Albert Einstein

The Thaden School is a new independent middle and high school based in Bentonville, Arkansas. “A private school with a public purpose,” the school’s unique curriculum will combine academic excellence with learning by doing. The school will feature three signature programs: Wheels (where the fields of physics and mechanics come alive through the construction and use of bicycles and other wheeled machines), Meals (where biology, chemistry, and community come alive through the growing and preparation of food), and Reels (where narrative and visual communication come alive through the production of film and video). Through its partnerships with nearby community organizations in the visual and culinary arts, as well as organizations promoting health, physical activity, bicycling, and community service, the school will provide students with opportunities to learn both on and off campus. The school’s “whole student / whole body” pedagogy will feature learning opportunities both indoors and outdoors.

Watch a short documentary with the Founding Head of School, Clayton Marsh, on the inherent difficulties in opening a new school from the ground up below.

The teaching kitchen is one of the truly unique spaces in the Home building, one that deeply espouses the school’s “learning by doing” mantra. Key to this notion was the inclusion of a large viewing window into the actual kitchen helmed by the school’s culinary staff, where all student and staff meals are prepared.
The Thaden School campus integrates buildings and landscape to provide unique places to learn indoors and outdoors, to develop mind and body—the whole student.

The Home Building is the hearth of the campus, and the daily meal that students and faculty gather to share is central to the mission of the school. We knew wood would be the defining characteristic of the building, but we didn’t have the budget to indulge in heavy timber. Instead, we turned our attention to shaping form and space within the constraints and opportunities of load-bearing wood construction. We built a 34,000 SF home with regular house construction technology, but we pushed the house form to its limit, cranking open the floor plan to create porches and courtyards and gently sloping the roof up to a dramatic 38’ peak in the center, where the roof plane enshrouds the simple gable form of the dining hall, the heart of the building and the whole campus. In that space, we celebrated the material technology, revealing the enormous truss frames to be read through a veil of poplar slats mounted on the bottom chords to bring warmth to the space.

The Thaden School will provide a unique educational experience combining academic excellence with learning by making. Its campus will integrate buildings and landscape to provide unique places to learn indoors and outdoors, to develop mind and body—the whole student. Bringing together the historic home of Bentonville’s aviation pioneer Louise Thaden with state of the art classrooms, labs, landscapes and maker spaces, the campus combines old and new to promote the growth of the student. The “feel” of the campus proposed in this master plan is modeled more on a small college campus than a monolithic middle or high school building. Students are expected to move between buildings over the course of the day, experiencing the outdoors. Many classrooms and work areas will be designed to be able to spill out onto adjacent outdoor areas. Agriculture plots, a bicycle pump track, and a water lab for research are just some examples of how landscape will be integral to the Thaden curriculum.

The dynamic architecture of Thaden consists of four main buildings that stretch across the landscape; bending and wrapping to define a new kind of campus. The Home building is the hearth of the campus, providing the dining hall, library, and lounge spaces. It is a warm, barn-like structure rooted in the agricultural heritage of the region. While being contemporary in form and massing, the Home building’s board and batten facades and all wood construction - unveiled in the dining hall - acknowledges the beauty of vernacular architecture in Arkansas. This new campus strives to preserve the past even as it transforms the area.