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AIA awards 2020 Gold Medal to Marlon Blackwell

Blackwell is known for modern buildings that honor the site

Building with slanted, pointing roof.
The Ruth Lilly Visitors Pavilion in Indianapolis.
Timothy Hursley courtesy AIA

Every year, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) bestows the Gold Medal, the organization’s highest annual honor, upon a practitioner who has had “a lasting influence on the theory and practice of architecture.” For 2020, that award is going to Marlon Blackwell, an architect who abides by the mantra: “Architecture can happen anywhere, on any scale, at any budget.”

Marlon Blackwell drawing on paper at desk.
Marlon Blackwell.
Mark Jackson

Based in Fayetteville, Arkansas, his firm, Marlon Blackwell Architects, is known for community-centered buildings that harness the landscape as well as simple forms. Built over three decades, a significant body of work, mostly in Northwest Arkansas, includes the Harvey Pediatric Clinic in Rogers, Arkansas, and St. Nicholas Eastern Orthodox Church in Springdale, Arkansas—ambitious buildings that are deeply rooted in their surroundings.

“His is a uniquely American architecture,” wrote Canadian architect Brian MacKay-Lyons in support of Blackwell’s nomination for the award. “He builds confidently upon the American cultural landscape. It is connected to society, rather than being aloof. This is not a nostalgic architecture, but an architecture of its time and place.”

Blackwell is also a celebrated educator, serving as as a distinguished professor, the E. Fay Jones chair, and department head of the Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design at the University of Arkansas.

Here’s a look at a few of Blackwell’s major works, including an affordable modern home featured in Curbed’s House Calls home tour series.

A single-story house with black siding and grey stone.
This Marlon Blackwell Architects-designed modern home in Fayetteville, Arkansas, was built for under $200 per square foot.
Mark Jackson
St. Nicholas Eastern Orthodox Church at dusk.
St. Nicholas Eastern Orthodox Church, Springdale, Arkansas.
Timothy Hursley courtesy AIA
A diagonal view at a rectilinear building with a large overhang.
Visitor Center at Shelby Farms Park, Memphis, Tennessee.
Timothy Hursley courtesy AIA