HOT SPRINGS, Arkansas: The recent ground breaking ceremony on the installation of the $1 million Tree House Project at Garvan Woodland Gardens included speakers Bob Bledsoe, Garvan Woodland Gardens Executive Director; Peter MacKeith, Dean Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design at the University of Arkansas; Modus Studio architects; Tres Fromme, educational component designer; Joseph Steinmetz, Chancellor of the University of Arkansas, and Sunny Evans, lead donor to the project.
Garvan’s Tree House, within the Evans Children’s Adventure Garden, will float in a small group of pines and oaks, bending easily between them. The theme of dendrology, the study of trees and wooded plants, will drive both the form and program of the structure. Natural materials are paramount, with metal and glass included where appropriate. Verticality, transparency and lightness are also important characteristics of the architecture in the Gardens. The Tree House’s wooden screen follows this design theme by creating varying levels of transparency that allow parents to monitor their kids during play without detracting from the mystery and adventure of the structure.
The treehouse has been carefully designed to teach children about nature through interactive exhibits and structures. Children will be able to learn and explore by stimulation of their imaginations, rather than through plaques and pictures. The structure will stand as an educational tool in its own right and, by engaging with the built form, children will be guided to understand the elements of the woodlands from multiple perspectives. Learning will be fun, as kids are encouraged to move and explore throughout the site.
The 1.5-acre Evans Children’s Adventure Garden currently features interactive garden rocks that encourage exploration, a 12-foot waterfall, man-made cave, bridge made of tree branches, maze made of rocks and more, to inspire children to explore and learn about their natural environment. The treehouse will further the garden’s mission to immerse children into this natural setting.
The dream-fulfilling treehouse is made possible by Sunny Evans of Hot Springs and her late husband, Bob, who committed $500,000 of a previous estate gift to create matching funds for a new treehouse. The treehouse is being designed by Modus Studio in Fayetteville.
“The Treehouse Project for Garvan Woodland Gardens will be a superb contemporary addition to the landscape and architecture of the gardens,” said Peter MacKeith, dean of the Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design. “Children of all ages will be both educated and delighted by the Modus Studio design. The vision of Mrs. Garvan for both the students of the school and the people of the state continues to be of immense benefit for all, and we are grateful to Sunny Evans and her late husband for their commitment to that vision.”
The estimated completion date for the treehouse is summer of 2017.
“The Evans estate gift will have an immediate financial impact on the Gardens, as well as an additional impact into perpetuity,” said Bob Bledsoe, executive director of Garvan Gardens. “Our gardens, and particularly the Evans Children’s Adventure Garden that Bob loved so dearly, will be transformed with their gift. As a friend of Bob Evans, it makes me proud that his legacy at Garvan Woodland Gardens is one we not only honor today, but it is also one that will be remembered for generations.”
The Evanses have a legacy of supporting the University of Arkansas, particularly the Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design’s Garvan Woodland Gardens. In addition to the children’s garden, their prior contributions helped complete the sanctuary within the Anthony Chapel and provided funding for the Evans Groom’s Quarters and the Evans Celebration Garden.
Sunny Evans said, “Bob’s favorite quote was one he attributed to Winston Churchill, and he carried it with him always in his pocket. He strongly believed that with what you get you make a living, and with what you give, you make a life. Bob was a very giving person.”
In addition to Garvan Gardens, the Evanses have designated gifts toward establishing a scholarship in the department of music and an endowed Chancellor’s Scholarship. The couple also supported the Arkansas Alumni Association Cornerstone Fund and were longtime supporters of the Razorback Foundation.
In spring 2011, the Evanses were recognized as Chancellor’s Medal recipients for their extraordinary philanthropy. That honor was particularly meaningful to them, as they were presented the award by then-Chancellor Dave Gearhart, whom they greatly admired.
Bob Evans served as a member of the university’s Campaign for the Twenty-First Century Steering Committee and as a member of the campaign’s Leadership and Principal Gifts Committee. He was a member of the university’s Board of Advisors and the Garvan Woodland Gardens Advisory Council prior to his death in November 2011.