Marlon Blackwell is what's commonly known as an Air Force brat. He was born in November 1956 in Germany and grew up on or near Air Force bases in the Philippines, Alabama, Florida and Montana. The former high school wrestler was driven to succeed from the start.

"Blackwell entered Auburn University in the summer of 1974, studying architecture," writes Arkansas historian Nancy Hendricks. "In 1980, he was awarded a bachelor's degree in architecture and environmental design from Auburn. To put himself through college, he worked for five summers for the Thomas Nelson Publishing Co. as a Bible salesman and was one of the company's top 20 salesmen each year, receiving a sales award in 1976 from then-presidential candidate Ronald Reagan.

"After graduation, he worked at architectural firms in Lafayette, La., and Boston. He entered Syracuse University's master's in architecture program in Florence, Italy, in 1990. Upon receiving his master's degree in 1991, he traveled extensively in Europe, documenting modern and classic architecture. In the fall of 1991, he accepted a position teaching architecture at Syracuse."

Blackwell came to the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville in 1992. He later co-founded a UA program in Mexico City. He also founded Marlon Blackwell Architects in 1992.

Three decades after Blackwell's arrival in Arkansas, a beautiful book from the Princeton Architectural Press titled "Radical Practice: The Work of Marlon Blackwell Architects" has been released. The book, which has 510 pages and weighs seven pounds, retails for $80. It surveys projects by Blackwell and his wife and business partner, Meryati Johari Blackwell. There are drawings, photos by renowned photographer Tim Hursley, and essays by leading planners, artists and designers.

Peter MacKeith, dean of the UA's Fay Jones School of Architecture & Design, writes in an editor's note: "The practice of Marlon Blackwell Architects, insistent on the material, the spatial, the illuminated, the tactile, the geographical and the cultural, is bound together by an ambitious ethos, one proposing meaningful, purposeful, intimate places for people of all walks of life."

Blackwell, who holds the E. Fay Jones Chair in Architecture, called on MacKeith and Jonathan Boelkins, a former studio director at Marlon Blackwell Architects, to edit the book. The new publication follows by 16 years the 2006 release of "An Architecture of the Ozarks: The Works of Marlon Blackwell."

"Peter knows me, and he really gets the work," Blackwell says. "He understands it in a way that few do. I needed someone who could be a tough critic, yet who understood what it is we're doing. And I needed an engaged editor."

MacKeith and Boelkins wrote introductory essays and then worked with the 20 people who wrote short essays. Contributing writers included the architects of the Obama Presidential Center in Chicago, Chicago's city planning director, a Pritzker Prize-winning architect and an environmental artist.

"The making of 'Radical Practice' was a comprehensive and collaborative act of design, one which improved over time with each iteration in layout, each essay contributed and each image selected," MacKeith says. "Of course, the design excellence of the practice and of the 13 projects documented underlies the entire book. But that excellence demanded an equivalent response from the editorial and graphic design teams. The process was gratifying, and the final published book is deeply rewarding in heft, tone, vividness and intimacy."

Among the featured projects is the renovation of Vol Walker Hall and the addition of the Steven L. Anderson Design Center to house the Fay Jones School. Other Arkansas projects featured include the Thaden School, the Blessings golf clubhouse and the Crystal Bridges museum store.

"It was really about getting the work out there and telling the story of the work," Blackwell says. "We wanted something that had weight and gravitas, not only in the content and the words but literally. We wanted it to be a slow page turn."

Blackwell's firm has grown during the past three decades from two people to 25. In 2019, the American Institute of Architects chose Blackwell for its 2020 Gold Medal, the highest honor for an architect. Blackwell has been elected to both the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the National Academy of Design.

"This book is not just me," Blackwell says. "It's the cumulative effort by some amazing, talented people in the firm. That most certainly includes Ati and all the things she does--from architecture to interior design to finance."

Blackwell isn't surprised that world-class work is being done in Arkansas. He says he wants the book to tell the story that architecture "can happen anywhere, at any scale, at any budget and for anyone. That's our story. That's what we're after."

Regardless of where the project is, Blackwell says his firm is "doing this with the same intensity and the same passion and the same love for craft and material. Wherever we're working, we want to make what we're doing available and accessible as something that people can feel is a connection to the place."

Blackwell and MacKeith are major proponents for architects and firms that aren't on the West Coast or East Coast.

"It's a big win for the middle because there are so few folks who have received this level of recognition," Blackwell says. "What it has allowed me to do is become more an advocate for practices and other creatives in the middle."

Senior Editor Rex Nelson's column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. He's also the author of the Southern Fried blog at rexnelsonsouthernfried.com.

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The work of Blackwell

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29.10.2022

Marlon Blackwell is what's commonly known as an Air Force brat. He was born in November 1956 in Germany and grew up on or near Air Force bases in the Philippines, Alabama, Florida and Montana. The former high school wrestler was driven to succeed from the start.

"Blackwell entered Auburn University in the summer of 1974, studying architecture," writes Arkansas historian Nancy Hendricks. "In 1980, he was awarded a bachelor's degree in architecture and environmental design from Auburn. To put himself through college, he worked for five summers for the Thomas Nelson Publishing Co. as a Bible salesman and was one of the company's top 20 salesmen each year, receiving a sales award in 1976 from then-presidential candidate Ronald Reagan.

"After graduation, he worked at architectural firms in Lafayette, La., and Boston. He entered Syracuse University's master's in architecture program in Florence, Italy, in 1990. Upon receiving his master's degree in 1991, he traveled extensively in Europe, documenting modern and classic architecture. In the fall of 1991, he accepted a position teaching architecture at Syracuse."

Blackwell came to the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville in 1992. He later co-founded a UA program in Mexico City. He also founded Marlon Blackwell Architects in 1992.

Three decades after Blackwell's arrival in Arkansas, a beautiful book from the Princeton Architectural Press titled........

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