Melbourne Elementary School CREDIT: modus studios

Building from the Ground Up: Modus Studio Is Turning Heads


  • Modus Studio, a Fayetteville, Arkansas-based architecture and prototyping firm, attributes its growth over the past 10 years to its ability to innovate, a thinking-making company culture and solid reputation.
  • The success of the company’s projects depends on examining the forces at play in the natural world, the neighborhood, local economy, and, ultimately, the owner’s goals. Modus’ style is modern and relevant, not overly trendy or traditional.
  • In 2010, Modus added a fabrication shop, where it creates custom-designed items, such as brewery tap handles and an award-winning portable grill.

“We always say Modus is an idea,” says Chris Baribeau, principal architect and co-founder of Modus Studio, an architecture and prototyping firm based in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

“Our philosophy is to be of the world and enjoy a thinking-making process as designers, so that we’re not pigeonholed into any one area. We really have the ability to expand our design thinking and position our work to meet that standard—and, to be passionate about it and love what you do. Our philosophy is to just to embrace that, enjoy it and test it. Sometimes you fail; sometimes you succeed.”

Baribeau, a graduate of the University of Arkansas Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design, says it’s all about consistently coming up with creative solutions. That philosophy, along with an innovative, inclusive company culture and a solid reputation, has helped Modus thrive.

“We love that as designers,” Baribeau says. “It keeps us elastic and engaged in new ideas all the time. I think it erodes those preconceived notions that I think you get if you’re overly specialized in the type of work you do.”

Modus has come a long ways since Baribeau and partner Josh Siebert founded the company in 2008 in Baribeau’s home office. Now, Modus has about 25 employees and designed its own 1,800-square-foot, LEED platinum-certified studio and 2,000-square-foot fabrication shop.

Diversity is key, with a nod to tradition

As an architecture firm, Modus has a diverse portfolio of commercial and residential projects. Designing K-12 schools in rural areas has been a continued focus. Not only has it led to repeat business from other school districts, but, Baribeau, who grew up in a small town in Arkansas, says it’s work he loves to do.

“The school is the heart of the community,” he explains. “It’s where families go—whether it’s the football or basketball game or daily education. Doing that kind of work and really getting embedded in the community and being able to serve a tremendously underserved population is a really important part of our body of work.”

The success of each project depends on examining the forces at play in the natural environment, the neighborhood, local economy, and, ultimately, the owner’s goals. Crafting something modern and relevant, but not overly trendy or traditional is the objective.

“Ultimately, we want to craft something that’s unique and poignant,” Baribeau explains. “We enjoy pushing the envelope within context. Every project is unique.”

Modus Firebox; CREDIT modus studios

Anything design, no boundaries

In 2010, Modus added Modus Shop to focus on prototyping and fabrication, often accommodating “random requests,” Baribeau explains, with projects like custom tap handles for a local brewery or a kombucha dispenser for a motorcycle for a local company to use at farmers markets and events.

“We’re always interested in design, whether it’s architecture, graphic design, industrial design, product design,” Baribeau says. “We want to have a thinking-making culture, and we don’t want to be bound within any certain parameters.”

In November 2017, Modus created a Firebox, which topped the outdoor category in the Garden & Gun magazine Made in the South Awards. The portable grill was created as part of a Modus internal design competition, which Baribeau says they hold a few times a year. Winning entries are fabricated in the shop and sold on Etsy.

Let your philosophies guide you

Continually expanding capabilities and encouraging team contributions allow for ongoing innovation. Tenaciously pursuing work, focusing on quality, building trust and establishing relationships have fostered Modus’ growth.

Baribeau says Modus’ thinking-making philosophy sets it apart. And, its location in Northwest Arkansas, home to some of the country’s largest companies, including Walmart and Tyson Foods, offers many opportunities.

“We’re a high-design firm that greatly values the way that, through our thinking-making culture and philosophy, we can be good people. We can extend our quality of life and the quality of life of others around us through what we design and work on,” Baribeau explains.

“At the same time, we acknowledge that you should be able to do great work and still have a personal life and a family life, and be of the world. That sometimes gets lost in high-design firms. For us, developing high-design standards, but still having a great culture, where exploration, research and development are valued—and also having fun—are part of that.”

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