Marlon Blackwell is not afraid to create a little tension. On the second floor of his new renovation and expansion of the architecture school at the University of Arkansas, which opened this fall, students file through a tall, narrow doorway as they make their way between a grand Beaux Arts–style salon into a contemporary addition. The threshold, lined with razor-thin steel panels, slices through the older interior's wall and decorative molding as if surgically inserted into the room, a move as deft as it is abrupt. Overhead, a light well, painted bright red, terminates in a rectangular oculus, introducing color and a fine-edged geometry into the white, austerely classical space. “The new and the old start to infect each other,” says Blackwell. “But rather than resolving the two, we wanted the building to resonate, to vibrate like a tuning fork.”

Since the 1970s, the Fay Jones School of Architecture—named for the revered regionalist who taught there throughout his career—inhabited the Beaux Arts building, originally constructed in 1934 as a library. It occupies a prominent site along the primary axis through campus, positioned just behind Old Main, an august mansard-roofed 1878 building. But the former library had never been fully fitted out as an architecture school; ad hoc studios were stuffed into reading rooms, and first-year students were banished to flood-prone basement work spaces. Three years ago, the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation offered a $10 million grant toward a comprehensive upgrade and addition to the building, but it required the school to submit initial plans within weeks. Lacking time to put out a request for proposals, then-dean Jeff Shannon convinced the university’s chancellor to hire Blackwell, who has taught at the architecture school for more than two decades and currently chairs the department. The move allowed the school to meet the deadline, but it rankled other Arkansas architects, as well as alums who wanted a shot at the commission.

Unperturbed, Blackwell and his firm delivered a minimalist renovation of the former library building and appended a four-story 35,000-square-foot addition. The new rectangular volume, a post-tensioned concrete structure mostly clad in limestone and zinc panels, with one fully glazed facade, stands behind the Beaux Arts library, turning the older building’s T-shaped plan into an H. The combined facility contains new studio, classroom, and administrative spaces, as well as model shops, a gallery, a roof terrace, and a 200-seat auditorium. The project, which currently accommodates 480 students, also consolidates the architecture, landscape, and interior design departments under one roof.

The overall design allows the old building and the new wing to express their distinct architectural languages and building methods, but it stitches them together in key places to create moments of frisson. Blackwell envisions the hybrid structure as a teaching tool. “You have walls, columns, different load-bearing conditions, and cantilevers,” he says. “It’s not like the Pompidou, where the building just throws up its skirt, but you have this encyclopedia or this whole reference guide to architecture.”

The text begins in the former library, where the firm’s renovation distills and augments Beaux Arts details. The architects stripped decades of muddy ochre pigment from the walls and repainted the plaster a bright white, which highlights wood doorways and emphasizes the scale of the rooms, an effect heightened by dark cork flooring.

While the circulation through the library building once dead-ended in four floors of book stacks, it now continues through the addition, where the architectural vocabulary switches abruptly to emphasize structure and hard-working materials. Twin stairs, enclosed in glass shafts with steel frames that curve into benches, rise along the joint between the old and new sides of the building. They connect basement-level workshops and computer labs to the ground floor—which houses a student lounge, administrative offices, and a gallery—and to the upper levels where studio spaces and classrooms show off the addition’s handsome poured-in-place concrete structure. (One complaint that several students echoed on a recent visit was about the acoustics in some of the new classrooms.)

The addition’s glass facade contrasts dramatically with the inward-looking, temple-like library. “The west side is really one big window,” says Blackwell. The custom double-skin glazing system uses vertical fritted glass fins to filter sunlight. While it provides ample daylighting for classrooms and work spaces, the system also turns the building into a lantern, projecting indoor activities outward to the campus when the sun goes down, and—this being architecture school—the effect typically lasts late into the night.

That presence has given the architecture school a higher profile within the university, or as Kyle Marsh, a fourth-year student, put it on a recent afternoon, “The contemporary building in the old part of campus reflects the kind of work being done inside.” He makes an important point. With an open call for proposals, the administration could have chosen a design architect from anywhere in the world. Instead, they selected someone deeply familiar with the architecture school, who could tailor the addition to both the campus and the teaching program. “I don’t know what the overall grand message to the students is,” says Blackwell, “but I hope the project underscores what it is to build well.”


Formal name of building:
Vol Walker Hall & the Steven L Anderson Design Center

University of Arkansas

Fay Jones School of Architecture, 120 Vol Walker Hall, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, AR 72701

Completion Date:
August 2013

Gross square footage:

Total construction cost:

University of Arkansas

Architect's firm:
Marlon Blackwell Architect,
217 E Dickson Street, Suite 104,
Fayetteville, AR 72701,
Tele: (479) 973-9121

Personnel in architect's firm who should receive special credit:
Marlon Blackwell Architect ' Design Architect and Architect of Record Marlon Blackwell FAIA Principal in Charge and Design Architect.

MBA Project Team:
David Jaehning- Project manager, Meryati Johari Blackwell Assoc. AIA, ASID, Jonathan Boelkins AIA, William Burks Assoc. AIA, Stephen Reyenga Assoc. AIA, Michael Pope Assoc. AIA, Bradford Payne Assoc. AIA, Angela Carpenter.

Polk Stanley Wilcox Architects ' Associate Architect

Mark Herrmann AIA, Associate Principal in Charge and Project Manager

PSW Project Team:
Joe Stanley, AIA, Craig Curzon AIA, Reese Rowland AIA, Wesley Walls AIA Principals, Kimberly Braden Prescott ASID, Christopher Thomas AIA, Sarah Menyhart Bennings AIA, Michelle Teague AIA, Conley Fikes AIA, Jim Thacker, John Dupree AIA, J.B. Mullins AIA. Laura Lyon.

Architect of Record and Design Architect:
Marlon Blackwell Architect

Associate Architect:
Polk Stanley Wilcox Architects

Interior design:
Interior Design of Record: Marlon Blackwell Architect - Meryati Johari Blackwell, Assoc. AIA, ASID Director of Interiors. Interior Design Associate: Polk Stanley Wilcox Architects - Kimberly Prescott ASID Director of Interiors.

General contractor:
Baldwin & Shell Construction Company
Scott Copas and Patrick Tenney, Mario Beltran -Project Manager, Trey Carter, Maurice Vines- Job Site Supervisor.

Structural Engineer:
Kenneth Jones & Associates, Inc.

Mechanical, Electrical, Plumbing, Fire Protection Engineer:
TME, Inc.

Civil Engineer:
Development Consultants, Inc.

Landscape Architect:
Crafton Tull Sparks

Lighting Designer:
Renfro Design Group

Geotechnical Consultant:
Grubbs Hoskyn Barton & Wyatt, Inc

Preservation Consultant:
John Milner Associates, Inc.

Concrete Consultant:
Clarkson Consulting, Inc.

Acoustics and Daylighting Consultant:
Dr. Tahar Messadi

LEED Project Team:
Marlon Blackwell Architect and Polk Stanley Wilcox Architects.

Curtain Wall Consultant:
Heitmann & Associates, Inc.

Accessibility Consultant:
LCM Architects.

Construction Document Coordination Review Consultants:
RediCheck North. LLC.

General contractor:
Baldwin & Shell Construction Company

Timothy Hursley

Marlon Blackwell Architect

CAD system, project management, or other software used:


90,955 square feet


$32.4 million

Completion date:

August 2013



Structural system
Post-tensioned poured-in-place concrete:
Sun Coast Post Tension

and steel frame with composite decking:
Fig Tree, Browers and Assoc.

Other Concrete work:
Baldwin & Shell, Concrete Services of NWA.

Concrete supplier:
GCC Mid-Continent.

Exterior cladding
Limestone rainscreen:
Natural Stone Honeycomb Reinforced Wall Cladding Systems: Stone Panels Inc. Harvested in Oolitic, IN.

Architectural Precast Concrete:
Tulsa Dynaspan

Stone and Masonry Restoration:
Mid-Continental Restoration.

Metal Panels: Rheinzink

Metal / glass curtain wall:
Custom steel fabrication 'L&L Metal Fabrication, custom glass installation: Ace Glass Construction Corp., fritted Glass for curtain wall: Silk Screen Laminated glass by Viracon.

Other Curtain Wall: Kawneer

Architectural Metals and custom fire stairs:
L&L Metal Fabrication

Precast concrete:
De Vinci Cast Stone

Engineered Glass Railing System:
HDI Railing systems installed by Action Architectural Metal Fabrications

Moisture barrier: Typar

Modified Bitumen and EPDM roofing:
Johns Manville Insulation Systems, Subcontractor: Roberts McNutt

Tile/shingles: Certain Teed Roofing

Green Roof: LiveRoof

Roof Composite Decking: Cali Bamboo

Historic Window Restoration:
stripping and paintings: Burnett Paint, Glass restoration: ACE Glass.

Custom Metal frame and fixed glass windows:
L&L Metal Fabrication and ACE Glass Construction Corp.

Curtain wall systems: Kawneer

All Glass-insulated and tempered:

Skylights (custom non-standard large size, insulated and tempered):
Schott Glass, Rochester Insulated Glass, Inc.

Fritted Glass at custom fabricated curtain wall:
Silkscreen laminated by Viracon

Other: Red color glass: Tristar

Entrances: Ellison, Kawneer

Entrance Mats: Mats Inc.

Metal doors: Stiles Custom Metal, Inc

Wood doors: VT Industries

Aluminum door frames: Raco Interior Products

Glass doors: Oldcastle BuildingEnvelope

Rockwood, Von Duprin, Corbin Russwin

Closers: LCN

Exit devices:
SDC magnetic locks, SSDC exit requests

Pulls: Rockwood

Security devices:
GE Security access controls, HID card readers

Interior finishes
Special Ceiling: Newmat stretched fabric- installer:
Golterman and Sabo

Custom Felt ceilings and walls:
Aetna Felt Corporation.

Plaster restoration:
Oaks Brothers.

Gypsum board ceiling:
Huffman Drywall.

Restroom partitions:

Restroom Specialties:
American Specialties Inc.

Paints and stains:
Sherwin Williams, Tnemec, PPG, Old Masters. Installer: Burnett Paints.

Wall coverings:
Custom felt installation on walls, Aetna Felt Corp.

Acoustic Paneling:
Soundsoak by Armstrong, Custom Felt Clouds and wall coverings by Aetna Felt Corporation.

All Millwork:
custom design by Architects, fabrication: Architectural Concepts Inc.

Plastic laminate:
Wilsonart and Nevamar

Quartz and solid surfacing:
ECO by Cosentino (all locations) and Avonite (restroom locations only)

Special surfacing:
Wool felt installed as wall covering, Aetna Felt corp. carpet installed as wall surfaces: Mohawk.

Floor and wall tile Iris US (restrooms floors and accent walls), American Olean (ceramic wall tiles, at restrooms). Glass Tile (glass tiles at walls of shower locations)

Resilient flooring:
Eco-Shell with cork rubber flooring by Johnsonite (workshop areas), Cork tiles (custom color) by Duro Design (studios, hallways and main gallery areas).
All flooring installed by Miller Flooring.

InterfaceFlor Global (faculty offices), Tandus Flooring (public areas), Mohawk. (auditorium floor and walls)

Terrazzo Flooring:
American Terrazzo

Raised flooring:
Tate Access Floors

Special interior finishes unique to this project:
(cork tile flooring, custom colors) Duro Design, (Arkansas Red Oak flooring) Miller Commercial Flooring, (terrazzo, custom color) America Terrazzo. Felt surfaces on walls and ceilings, Aetna Felt corp.

Faculty and staff Offices:
Miro by Watson Desking,
Faculty and staff offices chairs:
Aeron by Herman Miller.
Faculty and Staff offices guest chair:
Very by Haworth

Reception, staff and faculty Lounges furniture:
Davos by Coalesse, Lincoln Lounge by Turnstone.
Student and Faculty Lounges custom fabricated sofa and benches by Joseph Brajcki.
Student Lounge:
beanbags by Comfy Sacks.
Upholstered Stools for Media room, Student Lounge and Materials Library:
Boost by First Office.
Fixed seating, Auditorium:
Poltrona Frau
Conference Room seating:
Setu by Herman Miller.
Media room and computer room chairs:
Very de by Haworth
Counter height stools for student admin areas and material library:

Classroom Furniture:
Node by Steelcase, Verb by Steelcase
Studio desks:
Custom metal framework by Razorback Ironworks
Studio Stools:
National Public Seating.

Conference rooms tables and staff Lounge tables:
Eames by Herman Miller.
Exhibition Gallery Tables:
Faculty lounge side tables and coffee tables:
Plattner by Knoll
Faculty lounge, faculty offices and student lounge table:
Applause by First Office.
Media room and computer room tables:
Reside by Haworth
Media room and Advising center files and bookcases:
Studios, files under studio desks:
Materials Library tables:
custom metal fabrications by Razorback Ironworks.

Whiteboard at classrooms:

Custom sofa and bench by Joseph Brajcki Softgoods.

Outdoor Furniture: at roof terrace:
Parc by Landscape Forms.

Mechoshade, installer: Arkansas Shades and Blinds.

Other furniture:
Custom Bench at sky terrace by Santiago Perez

Custom Studio Desk frames by Razorback Ironworks, woodworks by Estes Wood Design, finishes by Burnet paint, custom LED lighting by Malstrom Lighting.

Wood Tableau from fallen red oaks at site by Fletcher Cox.

Cooper Lighting, Kurt Versen, Selux, Eureka, Visa, Spectrum, Elliptipar, Columbia, Edison Price, Lightilier, Lumascape, Lithonia, Fawoo

Lucifer, Bega, Elcast, MP Lighting, Luxrail, Winona Lighting

Dimming System or other lighting controls:

Elevators/Escalators: Otis Gen2

Plumbing (all fixtures are water saving types due to this being a LEED project)
Bathroom sinks: American standard
Studios sinks: custom by L&L Metal
Bathroom faucets: electronic water saving with aerator: moments by American Standard
Drinking fountain: Halsey Taylor
Kitchenette Sinks: Elkay
Kitchen faucets: Delta
Shower systems: American Standard
Urinal: American Standard
Toilets: American Standard
Water closet flush o meter valve: Sloan
Mop sinks: Fiat
Janitor faucets: T&S Brass and Bronze Works Inc.

Energy management or building automation system:
Johnson Controls

Other unique products that contribute to sustainability:
1. Greenroof:
LiveRoof hybrid green roof system, (contributes to Site development, protect and restore habitat, maximize open space, storm water design quantity and quality control, heat island effect- non roof and roof, water efficiency landscaping, no potable water use and not irrigation, reduce water use.)
2. Roof decking:
Cali Bamboo composite decking. Made from 60% reclaimed bamboo fibers and 40% recycled HDPE plastics (credits for recycled content, low-emitting materials, rapidly renewable materials, certified wood and can contribute to innovation in design credits).
3. Cork tile flooring:
Duro-Design (100% renewable resources, 100% PVC and no formaldehyde glue or binders. Naturally hypo allergenic, anti-microbial and anti-fungal. Can contribute towards recycled content, rapidly renewable materials and low emitting materials.)
4. Wool felt:
Aetna felt company used for wall coverings, ceiling clouds and upholstery (rapidly renewable materials). Wool felt is chemical resistant, fire retardant and self-extinguishing, excellent sound insulator and thermal insulating and vibration damping.
5. Limestone wall cladding:
Natural Stone Honeycomb Reinforced Wall Cladding Systems: Stone Panels Inc. Limestone Harvested in Oolitic, IN. This product use less of the natural stone, the veneer is thinner than the full dimension stone used in traditional stone system, saving the finite natural resource (credits towards regional materials).
6. Custom fabricated curtain wall system with built-in solar shading devices:
Using locally fabricated systems (using local contractors, connectors made using high recycled content steel). The built in double glazing system (insulated curtain wall system paired with custom fabricated shading devices using fritted glass, reduced 50% of solar heat gain entering the building without reducing natural light entering the spaces and sacrificing views. (Potential credit: light and views, optimize energy performance.)
7. Quartz countertops:
Eco by Consentino- 75% recycled material and 25% natural stones and ecological resins. Greenguard, NSF, ISO 14001 and Cradle to Cradle certified.
8. All wood veneered plywood and wood flooring
used are locally sourced oak, with credit toward regional material.
9. New mechanical systems:
better energy used and higher efficiency.
10. Lighting controls:
balance between task and general lighting with aim towards greater individual controls and energy savings (particularly the studio areas).

Add any additional building components or special equipment that made a significant contribution to this project:

Mech and Plumbing: Mountain Mechanical Contractors.
Fire and Security: Dunk Fire and Security
Electric: Marrs Electric
Controls and Automation: Johnson controls
Triple S Alarm.
Digital: Killian Digital