2020 AIA Gold Medal to Marlon Blackwell

John Hill
11. December 2019
Photo: Mark Jackson

The American Institute of Architects (AIA) has named Marlon Blackwell, head of his eponymous firm in Fayetteville, Arkansas, as the recipient of the 2020 Gold Medal, the AIA’s highest annual honor.

Marlon Blackwell is synonymous with Northwest Arkansas, where the University of Arkansas is located, and whose architecture department he headed from 2009 to 2015. But Blackwell was born in Germany and went to school at Auburn University in Alabama and Syracuse University in Florence, Italy, leading to what the AIA calls his "glocal" approach to architecture. Though how much his time as a traveling bible salesperson in the American South (a new tidbit yielded by the AIA's announcement of the AIA Gold Medal) influenced his building designs is hard to say. What is clear is how much other architects appreciate his work; he is, akin to Peter Zumthor and others, an "architect's architect." 

Blackwell will receive the 2020 AIA Gold Medal at the AIA Conference on Architecture 2020 in Los Angeles in May. A few quotes from architects who supported Blackwell's nomination for the AIA Gold Medal are presented below between some images of his firm's work. 

Vol Walker Hall & the Steven L Anderson Design Center, Fayetteville, AR, 2013 (Photo: Timothy Hursley)
Marlon Blackwell is a student of his ‘Place’ in the world. This ethic provides a philosophical coherence to his work. His is a uniquely American architecture; he builds confidently upon the American cultural landscape. His ‘cultural realist’ approach is democratic, looking to the ordinary and the everyday for inspiration. It is connected to society, rather than being aloof. This is not a nostalgic architecture, but an architecture of its time and place.

Brian MacKay-Lyons

Ruth Lilly Visitors Pavilion, Indianapolis, IN, 2010 (Photo: Timothy Hursley)
As a practicing architect and educator myself, I have become aware of the growing estrangement between the world of practitioner and that of the academy. Marlon teaches, as do I, because of the great sense of responsibility to add a measure of reality to the education of architectural students while also supporting the theoretical or less pragmatic aspects of their education.

Thom Mayne, 2013 AIA Gold Medal recipient

Saint Nicholas Eastern Orthodox Church, Springdale, AR, 2010 (Photo: Timothy Hursley)
Every Marlon Blackwell design is a new lesson in the transformative ability of architecture to reveal the uniqueness of every site and give meaning to any program, to achieve an expressive clarity in strong and simple forms. In every way, across all measures, the work raises our expectations for our own architecture and teaches us that it is possible to exceed what appears to limit us.

Julie V. Snow

Shelby Farms Park, Memphis, TN, 2016 (Photo: Timothy Hursley)
The 2020 Advisory Jury:

  • Kelly M. Hayes-McAlonie (Chair), The State University of New York at Buffalo, Buffalo, New York
  • Emily Grandstaff-Rice, Arrowstreet Inc., Boston, MA
  • Norman Foster, Foster + Partners, London, United Kingdom
  • Marsha Maytum, LMS, San Francisco, California
  • Takashi Yanai, Ehrlich Yanai Rhee Chaney Architects, Culver City California
  • Scott Shell, EHDD, San Francisco, California
  • Melissa Harlan, Christner, St. Louis Missouri
  • Maurice Cox, City of Detroit, Detroit, Michigan

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