May 26, 2020

Arkansas professor lives and breathes architecture. Oh, and he also teaches it.

By: Guest Author
SECU (Twitter: @TheSECU)

Who doesn’t appreciate good architecture? Professor Marlon Blackwell, that’s who. When greatness can be achieved, “good” simply won’t do. And that’s why this Distinguished Professor and E. Fay Jones Chair in Architecture at the University of Arkansas is the 2020 SEC Professor of the Year. Though he’s certainly more than qualified to receive the honor, he was thrilled, saying: “To represent the University of Arkansas in this consideration of all the professors at these other incredible institutions that make up the SEC, and then to be selected as an exemplar in some way on behalf of the conference – it’s a huge honor and was really unexpected.”

Professor Blackwell has been teaching at the University of Arkansas for nearly 30 years. But, let’s rewind for a second. Before becoming a Razorback, Professor Blackwell fed his passion for architecture at Auburn University (S-E-C! S-E-C! S-E-C!), where he earned his Bachelor of Architecture degree. From there, he worked at firms in multiple U.S. states before buckling down to earn his Master of Architecture II from Syracuse University in Florence, Italy.

Fast forward to 1992, and he’s landed in Fayetteville, Arkansas. After more than a decade as a member of the faculty, Professor Blackwell served for six years as head of the Department of Architecture in the Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design. He also directed the development of the Integrated Design Studio, the capstone experience in the professional curriculum that sets students up to build the kind of resume he’s worked so hard to achieve. As Professor Blackwell said: “I put a lot of work into the teaching and into trying to be a good colleague at the university in a variety of roles. To see the teaching and the creative research together recognized – that’s pretty rare for me. Usually it’s one or the other.”

As expected, Professor Blackwell has been recognized in numerous capacities. For starters, he’s a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects, and he received its 2020 Gold Medal. This award, the institute’s highest honor, recognizes architects with enduring impacts on theory and practice. He was inducted into the National Academy of Design in 2018, and in 2017 he received the E. Fay Jones Gold Medal from the Arkansas chapter of the American Institute of Architects. He’s been named among the “30 Most Admired Educators” by DesignIntelligence, was the U.S. Artists Ford Fellow, and he received an American Academy of Arts and Letters Architecture Prize. In 2006, Professor Blackwell was selected by The International Design Magazine as one of the ID Forty: Undersung Heroes, and even earlier, in 1998, the Architectural League of New York named him an “Emerging Voice.”

While racking up awards and impacting thousands of architecture students, Professor Blackwell co‐founded the annual University of Arkansas Mexico Summer Urban Studio, which takes place at the Casa Luis Barragán in Mexico City. He also founded and is co‐principal of Marlon Blackwell Architects, which was ranked No. 1 in Design in the 2016 Architect 50 – a national survey of architecture firms. It was recognized as the 2011 Firm of the Year by Residential Architect.

Peter MacKeith, dean of the Fay Jones School, said “Marlon Blackwell epitomizes the ideal architect-educator. As committed to excellence in architectural education as he is to excellence in architectural design, Marlon’s professional accomplishments indeed reflect his commitment to both the theory and the practice of architecture, to both the discipline and the profession, to both the student and the client, to both the academy and society at large.”

Pictured: Professor Marlon Blackwell, FAIA, (L) with a group of students from the Fay Jones Department of Architecture

Clearly, Professor Blackwell can’t get enough architecture in his life. He has even been a visiting professor at Cornell University, the University of Florida, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the University of Texas at Austin, among others. Even more, he has co-taught design studios with several notable architects and served as the 2018-2019 William A. Bernoudy Architect in Residence at the American Academy in Rome. You’re probably thinking there’s nothing left for him to do in the field, but you’d be wrong. Professor Blackwell also sits on design award juries and serves as a visiting critic around the country.

It’s enough to make your head spin, right? University of Arkansas Chancellor Joseph E. Steinmetz knows it, saying: “Across every area in which a faculty member can contribute to our mission – teaching, research, service – Marlon sets the standard and exceeds expectations. His contributions to the field of architecture, dedication to students, and service to the campus and community are truly extraordinary. He has received the highest honor in his field as a professional architect while providing life‐changing opportunities for students through architectural education.”

The Professor of the Year award is the SEC’s highest faculty honor, and it couldn’t have gone to a more deserving educator. Since his arrival at the University of Arkansas, Marlon Blackwell has gone above and beyond in every capacity. His lifelong love for architecture combined with his passion for sharing knowledge means that students and clients alike will continue to reap the benefits of his dedication to More.