Art, Nature Bring Life to Bank OZK HQ


The median of the tree-lined entry is awash in wildflowers at the new Bank OZK headquarters in west Little Rock.
The median of the tree-lined entry is awash in wildflowers at the new Bank OZK headquarters in west Little Rock.

The checklist of finishing touches has dwindled to artwork at the new Bank OZK headquarters in west Little Rock. The grandest of the yet-to-arrive artisan pieces has reserved placement outside the 248,000-SF office building clad in glass, granite and zinc.

Two winged feminine figures, the tallest standing at 40 feet and bearing wings more than 25 feet long, will crown a plaza reflection pool in front of the atrium entrance.

“Those were expected to be here earlier,” said Tim Hicks, chief administrative officer and executive director of investor relations at Bank OZK. “But we’re hoping to have those here in the next couple months and installed.”

The bronze sculptures by Wu Ching Ju will provide an Arkansas twin to her 2011 creation: Pro Terra et Natura (Mother Earth and Nature) on display 7,400 miles away in Shanghai.

If landscaping had its own topping-out ceremony, setting these monumental cast-metal works would fit the bill at the $98 million-plus Bank OZK development.

“These sculptures are the feature piece,” said Reese Rowland, principal of Little Rock’s Polk Stanley Wilcox Architects. “From the front of the building, they will draw the eye to the atrium entrance where everything converges. People inside the building can experience the sculptures from the different levels of the stairwells and atrium.”

Though delayed by the COVID-19 outbreak, the move of most Bank OZK staffers to the new headquarters is finished, although only about 100 of the 400 staffers are working in the office because of the pandemic.

“It’s unfortunate the building’s not getting used like it was intended, but that time will come eventually,” Hicks said.

Rendering of the Bank OZK campus.
Rendering of the Bank OZK campus.

The blank canvas presented by the 44-acre site has been filled in with an array of botanical brushstrokes as 18 months of landscaping work took shape around construction of the headquarters, centerpiece of the master-planned property.

The palette of plantings features an all-Arkansas lineup native to the state though the sourced nursery sometimes lay elsewhere.

Shumard oaks, a low-maintenance hardwood with a tolerance for almost any soil condition, play a starring role in the cast of greenery. Forty-two of these fastest-growing members of the red oak family line the main entryway and sidewalk in three rows.

Bronze sculptures by Wu Ching Ju will provide an Arkansas twin to her 2011 creation: Pro Terra et Natura (Mother Earth and Nature) on display 7,400 miles away in Shanghai.

Trucked in from Georgia, the 8.5 inch-caliper trees were transported two at a time on 53-foot trailers.

That measurement reflects the diameter of the trunk at about 4 feet off the ground, but what’s below ground takes the scale of the tree to another level of appreciation.

“We’re talking they weigh as much as a truck, 12,000 pounds, and we’re digging 6 feet deep to set the root ball,” said Tony Knight, president of Little Rock Landscape Inc.

“It’s not every day you get to plant that many big trees. The line of oaks is really stately.”

The oaks were part of a procession of nearly 500 tree plantings around the property that includes maples, cypress, magnolias and dogwoods.

The $2 million landscaping contract encompassed 27,000 yards of turf, 13,000 cubic yards of topsoil, more than 15,000 plants, 8 acres of wildflower seeding and 8 miles of irrigation piping.

The count of perennials alone numbered 10,000 1-gallon containers.

“It really is kind of mind-boggling,” Knight said. “Most commercial sites we work on are what we call straitlaced. This site was not.

“Throughout the four seasons, you will see different things blooming. That’s really cool. You don’t see that on most commercial sites.”

Among the artwork on the 44-acre property is “Serenity” by Simon Gudgeon, one of Britain’s foremost contemporary sculptors. Earlier castings took up residence in London’s Hyde Park in 2009 and the sculpture trail of Wyoming’s National Museum of Wildlife Art in 2012.
Among the artwork on the 44-acre property is “Serenity” by Simon Gudgeon, one of Britain’s foremost contemporary sculptors. Earlier castings took up residence in London’s Hyde Park in 2009 and the sculpture trail of Wyoming’s National Museum of Wildlife Art in 2012.

On a normal day during construction, 20 members of the Little Rock Landscape crew were on the property caring for what was planted and adding more. As many as 50 were on site with the approach of the spring deadline to finish the landscaping.

Irrigate and landscape became the mantra as work progressed while weeding, fertilizing freshening mulch and other ongoing maintenance chores grew with the completion of new sections.

Four ponds split between front and back of the headquarters serve as rain detention and a reservoir of hydration for the landscaped vegetation.

The line of water and greenery through the property was envisioned to create a central courtyard of pools and flora to accentuate the headquarters.

Regarding the landscaping and grounds, “this is a thought we had from the very beginning: We wanted it to be as impressive as the architecture of the building. We hope it’s impressive enough to make our state and city proud,” Hicks said.

“Nymph with a putto,” cast-iron statuary produced by the famed Val d’Osne foundry.

“LaGaronne” and “Nymph with a putto,” cast-iron statuary produced by the famed Val d’Osne foundry.
“LaGaronne” and “Nymph with a putto,” cast-iron statuary produced by the famed Val d’Osne foundry.

The oak-lined main entryway, divided by a wildflower-filled median, features five different shades of brick pavers along its course. The north-northwest orientation from Cantrell Road establishes a centerline that runs through the headquarters and across the northern side of the property.

“The building inside has a really dark marble with a light graining,” said Polk Stanley’s Rowland. “We wanted something to feel like the driveway was flowing into the atrium in a rhythm of light and dark. The pavers move from a darker, car zone on Cantrell Road to a lighter, people-walking zone. It’s a seamless transition from the curb to the atrium.”

The decision to go with larger trees along the main entryway was pushed by the sheer magnitude of the headquarters building.

“Something in that drive up had to fit the scale of the building,” said Chip Impastato, principal at Studio Outside, the Dallas firm that oversaw landscape design. “We talked with Bank OZK, and they got on board with that.”

Impastato is especially proud of making places for the people who work inside the headquarters to enjoy the outside with a pavilion and other considerations on the north side of the property.

“We were just so glad to get that on campus and see people using it,” he said.

“We questioned the bank on what their daily routine would be: Where are all these people going to go on a pretty day?

“We proposed communal gathering space outside, space where they might have a catered lunch, food trucks, a health fare or any event. We were able to convince the bank there was a lot of value in that.”

Drone shots offer bird’s eye views from the front and back of the headquarters.

Drone shots offer bird’s eye views from the front and back of the headquarters.
Drone shots offer bird’s eye views from the front and back of the headquarters.

Adorning the property are 90 benches of limestone quarried in Batesville and 13 benches of cypress logged in Louisiana, another outdoor amenity.

Rowland said the overall idea was to position the headquarters to set up for the future addition of more buildings with views of the finished landscaped court and pools of water.

“It was important to have the landscape and building to be designed as one thing,” he said. That simplifies future development of what is envisioned and planned to be an office campus.

The early feedback from Bank OZK staffers has reassured members of the design team that they accomplished the goal of creating a great building and an experience for the employees.

“We’re getting a lot of ‘just wow’ and ‘blown away,’” Rowland said. “It’s not I have to work here. It’s I get to work here. That’s what you want to hear.”