Marlon Blackwell is joining the ranks of notable names—I.M Pei, Harry Weese, Kevin Roche, Robert Venturi, and Deborah Berke among them—to design a municipal project in Columbus, Indiana.  

Recently selected through a competition in which fellow shortlisted finalists included Höweler + Yoon, SO–IL, and Snow Kreilich, the commission won by Blackwell’s eponymous Fayetteville, Arkansas-based firm is a unique one: a new air traffic control tower at the Columbus Municipal Airport, a public facility located roughly three miles north of the small but architecture-famous city’s downtown core. While the $11.5 million project, funded in part by a grant from the Cummins Foundation Architecture Program, is the AIA Gold Medal–winning architect’s first in Columbus, it’s not his first in the Hoosier State. In 2010, Blackwell’s design for the Ruth Lilly Visitors Pavilion was completed at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. 

Construction work on the new 100-foot-tall air traffic control tower is slated to begin in 2025. It replaces an outdated 80-year-old tower, aligning the facility with current Air Traffic Control design and safety standards—sighting, backup cooling and power, security, fire safety, and more—established by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Joining Marlon Blackwell Architects (MBA) on the winning design team are Woolpert (aviation design), Guy Nordenson (structural design), Thornton Tomasetti (facade design), and Threshold Acoustics (acoustic consulting).  

“We are so honored to have been selected to contribute to the architectural legacy of Columbus,” said Blackwell. “More than a piece of infrastructure, our hope is that the new Columbus Municipal Airport Air Traffic Control Tower will become a beacon of Columbus’s architectural and design heritage, that will mark a key gateway into the city.”

Formalized in 1960 to “encourage architectural excellence in Bartholomew County,” the Cummins Foundation Architecture Program has helped to bring significant architectural talent to this corner of south-central Indiana. In addition to the names mentioned above, other design luminaries selected for projects through the program include, among many others, Edward Larrabee Barnes, Gunnar Birkerts, James Polshek, Gwathmey Siegel & Associates, Richard Meier & Associates, Michael Van Valkenburgh, and most recently, IwamotoScott.

The news of MBA’s selection to design the new air traffic control tower at Columbus Municipal Airport comes just months after the FAA announced its Sustainable Tower Design Initiative. Under this program, 31 candidate airports will see their aging towers replaced by modern, all-electric structures designed by New York–based Practice for Architecture and Urbanism (PAU). The initiative is a contemporary redux of a similar FAA initiative from the early 1960s in which I.M. Pei was recruited to create a standard design for control towers at airports across the country—many of the 16 towers built using the Pei design are still in use today.

Coincidentally, PAU completed its first project in Columbus this past summer as one of four J. Irwin and Xenia S. Miller Prize–winning recipients featured in the last cycle of Exhibit Columbus. Its contribution, a soaring crowned canopy structure dubbed InterOculus erected over the intersection of 4th and Washington Streets in historic downtown Columbus, is the first temporary work commissioned for the biennial design exhibition to live on as a permanent fixture in the community.