Winning projects by Blackwell firm, Community Design Center

A metal shed transformed into a church in Springdale, Ark., and an affordable pocket housing plan for Little Rock have both earned national 2013 Honor Awards from the American Institute of Architects.

The award-winning works were designed by faculty and staff of the Fay Jones School of Architecture at the University of Arkansas.

The AIA awards are considered the highest national professional honors to be granted to design projects in architecture, urban design and interior design. Twenty-eight awards were granted this year in the categories of architecture, interior architecture, and regional and urban design, chosen from more than 700 submissions.

The St. Nicholas Antiochian Orthodox Christian Church in Springdale, designed by Fayetteville-based Marlon Blackwell Architect, won an Honor Award for Architecture, one of 11 awarded. This is Blackwell’s second AIA Honor Award.

According to the AIA website, the Honor Awards for Architecture program “recognizes achievements for a broad range of architectural activity to elevate the general quality of architecture practice, establish a standard of excellence against which all architects can measure performance, and inform the public of the breadth and value of architecture practice.”

Blackwell is a Distinguished Professor and head of the architecture department in the Fay Jones School of Architecture at the University of Arkansas, as well as an AIA Fellow.

The St. Nicholas project entailed the transformation of an existing metal shop building into a sanctuary and fellowship hall in Springdale. The sky-lit tower pours red light down into the transition between the narthex and the sanctuary, giving worshippers a moment of pause before entering. A narrow cross is suspended on the western side of the tower, backlit by the morning sun, itself a beacon for arriving parishioners. The exterior of the building uses box rib metal panels, common in local industrial buildings, while the interior finishes are kept simple. The church is visible from Interstate 540.

“This transformation of a humble former welding shop into an elegant work of religious architecture is an inspiring example for our profession and especially for small practitioners,” the jury noted. “The project makes the most with the least, displaying deep resource efficiency as an integral part of its design ethos – something more architects should be thinking about and practicing.”

Jury members praised the development of flexible space by creating a maneuverable wall between the worship and fellowship spaces. They also called the ability to maintain the sacredness of the space with strategic use of color and light “inspiring.”

The church has also received other honors, including being named the World’s Best Civic and Community Building by the World Architecture Festival in 2011 and receiving a 2011 American Architecture Award and a 2012 AIA Small Project Award.

An Honor Award for Regional and Urban Design was awarded to “Rock Street Pocket Housing,” a design by the University of Arkansas Community Design Center, an outreach program of the Fay Jones School. It was one of eight awarded. Fifth-year architecture students collaborated with staff on this project. This is the center’s 10th national AIA Honor Award for Regional and Urban Design.

The Regional and Urban Design Honor Awards “recognize distinguished achievements that involve the expanding role of the architect in urban design, regional and city planning, and community development,” according to the AIA website. “The awards identify projects and programs that contribute to the quality of these environments.”

“This is a great integration of inventive architecture and sustainable urbanism into a traditional, low-income fabric. The project does a very interesting and successful job of comingling variations of public and private space,” the jury noted. “By creating variations in the housing typology, building placement on the site and landscape treatments, the development proposal has appeal to multiple household types, creates private and shared space, and it completes the urban context of the neighborhood.”

Jury members said the individual house designs admirably handled the double duty of negotiating fronts to the street and the communal space.

“It is thorough, achievable, and detailed with a fresh design approach that is also supportive of the context,” the jury noted.

This design project was prepared for the Downtown Little Rock Community Development Corp., and funded by planning grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the city of Little Rock.

Designers took the five adjacent parcels for housing in the Pettaway neighborhood and, rather than placing one home on each parcel, they suggested combining the parcels to create a pocket neighborhood. The move nearly doubled the density, placing nine homes around a shared space that includes a community lawn and playground, community gardens, a shared street and a low-impact development storm water management system.

Affordable pricing for the homes – about $100,000 – comes from standardized dimensions and materials, said Stephen Luoni, director of the center. Luoni is also a Distinguished Professor and the Steven L. Anderson Chair in Architecture and Urban Studies in the Fay Jones School.

This design also won a Grand Award in the “On the Boards” category in the 2012 Residential Architect design awards program.

In addition, other designers with connections to the Fay Jones School received AIA recognition. Olson Kundig Architects won an Honor Award for Architecture for Art Stable in Seattle and an Honor Award for Interior Architecture for the Charles Smith Wines Tasting Room and World Headquarters in Walla Walla, Wash. Kundig, principal and owner at Olson Kundig Architects in Seattle, was the 2010 John G. Williams Distinguished Visiting Professor for the school.

VJAA won two Honor Awards for Interior Architecture – for the Blessed Sacrament Chapel and Abbey Church Pavilion in Collegeville, Minn., and for Chicago Apartment. Vincent James and Jennifer Yoos, both principals at VJAA in Minneapolis, were the 2012 John G. Williams Distinguished Visiting Professors for the school.

The winning projects in this year’s awards program will be exhibited at the AIA convention in Denver in June and published in Architect magazine, the official magazine of the AIA.

AuthorMatthew Petty