Two University of Arkansas projects have been honored with the highest American awards in architecture and design by the American Institute of Architects, which announced its 2018 Institute Honor Awards.

The Vol Walker Hall/Steven L. Anderson Design Center project, home to the Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design, has earned an Honor Award for Architecture, while the U of A Community Design Center and the U of A Office for Sustainability have earned an Honor Award for Regional and Urban Design for “Conway Urban Watershed Framework Plan: A Reconciliation Landscape.”

These honors will be presented during the annual AIA Convention and Expo in New York City in June and will be featured in the June 2018 issue of Architect magazine. These two U of A projects are among 17 selected this year for AIA Honor Awards in the categories of architecture, interior architecture, and regional and urban design.

“To be recognized with two AIA Honor Awards in the same year is an extraordinary event for our school and the university, and positions us in a clear national spotlight,” said Dean Peter MacKeith. “Individually, these awards recognize the work and leadership of two of the school’s distinguished professors, Marlon Blackwell, FAIA, who holds the E. Fay Jones Chair in Architecture, and Stephen Luoni, who holds the Steven L. Anderson Chair in Architecture and Urban Studies and is director of the UA Community Design Center, as well as Marty Matlock, executive director of the Office for Sustainability. But they also recognize the many graduates of our school who have worked within these practices over many years, including those of Polk Stanley Wilcox Architects and Baldwin and Shell.

“I would like to recognize further the leadership of professor Jeff Shannon and professor Ethel Goodstein-Murphree – and the work of the school faculty and staff – in guiding the school through the design process of this project. Vice Chancellor Mike Johnson and his team at Facilities Management are equally to be recognized. We are most grateful to the funds provided to the school from Don and Ellen Edmondson, Ken and Linda Sue Shollmier, and the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation, among many others, in order to advance the school building project.

“But all together, these two awards recognize more generally the deep commitment the Fay Jones School’s faculty, students and staff possess to the highest standards of design and design education and further indicate our presence on the national stage of architecture and design.”

Dedicated in September 2013, the Steven L. Anderson Design Center is a contemporary 37,000-square-foot addition to the renovated historic Vol Walker Hall. Marlon Blackwell Architects was lead architect for the project, with Polk Stanley Wilcox Architects as associate architect. Baldwin and Shell was the contractor. This is Marlon Blackwell Architects’ third AIA Honor Award for architecture, in addition to one for interior architecture and one for regional and urban design.

The Fay Jones School joins a select group of architecture and design schools whose buildings have earned this top honor, including those at Yale University, Harvard University, Cornell University, Clemson University and Ohio State University. This is the first AIA Honor Award for a U of A campus facility.

“Located in the heart of our campus, the Fay Jones School is part of what makes the university special,” said Chancellor Joseph Steinmetz. “This distinction for the building’s design is much deserved. Along with the collaborative, innovative education that the school provides, leading to success in the professions, this remarkable facility is a clear asset for our campus, the state and the region. This recognition raises the design profile of the university and brings renewed attention to the excellent design education it offers.”

Vol Walker Hall Project

The expanded Fay Jones School facility unites all three departments – architecture, landscape architecture and interior design – under one roof for the first time, reinforcing the school’s identity and creating a cross-disciplinary, collaborative learning environment. The integration of old and new revitalized the educational environment of Vol Walker Hall, the campus’ original library and home to the Fay Jones School since 1968.

The addition resonates with the traditional structure of Vol Walker Hall while providing an identity as a progressive design school. The Indiana limestone cladding and steel windows of Vol Walker Hall, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, were meticulously restored, while the interior renovation established a middle ground between minimalism and classicism. Glass-enclosed stairwells reveal the formal joint between the renovation and addition, but new, white interior finishes of the renovation and addition provide continuity from old to new.

The addition significantly increased the school’s studio space, with studios on all floors, and an expansive roof terrace provides both a green roof as well as a covered outdoor classroom and event space. Rising from the first floor to the second floor of the addition’s northwest side, a state-of-the-art lecture hall accommodates approximately 200 seats as well as a “standing room” gallery, fulfilling a critical need to provide space for lectures and school events. The facility achieved LEED Gold in recognition of the design’s use of sustainable and urban strategies.

“Consistent orchestration of natural light and a sparse but powerful use of red to make landmark moments in the building is invigorating,” the AIA jury members said.

Urban Watershed Project

The “Conway Urban Watershed Framework Plan: A Reconciliation Landscape” was a collaborative resiliency design project done with the city of Conway. This is the center’s 14th AIA Honor Award for Regional and Urban Design.

The interdisciplinary collaboration between architects, planners, engineers, economists and ecologists addresses the impact of urbanization on the 42-square-mile urban sub-watershed that incorporates much of Conway. Problems include increased flooding, water quality contamination and property damage.

“The AIA Awards for Regional and Urban Design this year signal a new urgency in reconciling the development of cities with stewardship of their host ecosystems,” said Luoni, the UACDC director. “We are very pleased that the jury selected our Framework Plan as an exemplar of a new type of urban landscape where infrastructure delivers ecosystem services. We look forward to taking the next steps with the city of Conway to implement and mainstream these novel proposals.”

The AIA jury called the project “head to tail very rewarding. A thoughtful, sophisticated and holistic response to a recurring problem across the country.”

The Conway framework plan imagines a cityscape that cultivates a highly livable green urban environment that solves some of the challenges cities face from climate change. These improvements can be made through low-tech/high-concept enhancements to ordinary infrastructure investments already scheduled to serve the city’s growth.

The three-year project was funded by a $498,000 grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, administered by the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission, with matching funds from the city of Conway, Faulkner County, the University of Central Arkansas and the Lake Conway Property Owners Association.

The Conway framework plan was released as a book by ORO Editions (San Francisco) in October 2017. The book features transferable technology other communities can apply as a design guide for how to build a green city.

AuthorLinda Komlos