Fay Jones School Faculty-Led Projects Net 2022 ‘Architect’s Newspaper’ Best of Design Awards

Timothy Hursley

The Marygrove Early Education Center is a state-of-the-art early childhood education center located on the campus of the former Marygrove College in the Livernois-McNichols district of northwest Detroit.

Several Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design faculty and their projects were recognized in the 2022 AN Best of Design Awards. The annual competition is sponsored by The Architect’s Newspaper.

The honored projects were designed by Marlon Blackwell Architects, the professional architecture practice of U of A professor Marlon Blackwell, and the U of A Community Design Center, an outreach program of the Fay Jones School directed by U of A professor Steve Luoni.

In addition, Somewhere Studio, the professional architecture practice of U of A professors Jessica Colangelo and Charles Sharpless, received an honorable mention for the Young Architects Award.

The AN Best of Design Awards is a premiere North American awards program open to design professionals for interiors, buildings, landscape, urbanism and installations in the United States, Mexico and Canada.

The Marygrove Early Education Center in Detroit, designed by Marlon Blackwell Architects, was the winner in the Education—Kindergarten, Primary, High School category and was also a finalist for the project of the year. The ARK: Rural Botanical Garden for Arkansas, designed by the Community Design Center, was the winner in the Unbuilt—Landscape, Urban Design and Master Plan category.

Blackwell, FAIA, Distinguished Professor and the E. Fay Jones Chair in Architecture in the Fay Jones School, has taught at the U of A since 1992. He is the recipient of the 2020 AIA Gold Medal. Steve Luoni, Distinguished Professor, is also the Steven L. Anderson Chair in Architecture and Urban Studies in the Fay Jones School. Colangelo is an assistant professor of architecture, and Sharpless is an assistant professor of interior architecture and design, both in the Fay Jones School.

Marygrove Early Education Center

The Marygrove Early Education Center is a state-of-the-art early childhood education center located on the campus of the former Marygrove College in the Livernois-McNichols district of northwest Detroit. It is the first new building on the campus in decades, one specifically built to house early childhood programs to benefit the surrounding neighborhood, which has suffered from an array of economic and education problems related to the decline of Detroit.  

The center supports 150 students up to age 5 from local neighborhoods, which reflects the diversity of the community. The center extends the legacy of the now closed Marygrove College as a beacon of education and contributes to its ongoing efforts to revitalize the surrounding neighborhood.

“This project excels in all dimensions. The mat building strategy produces a low-slung, child-scaled building that forms a hinge between the existing built environment and the natural context,” said Ron Stelmarski, jury member for the 2022 AN Best of Design Awards. “The porosity and subtle shaping of the broad form were defining characteristics that stood out to the jury. Pocket-park courtyards dropped into the mass appear very effective in providing safe and sheltered exposure to nature while allowing daylight to modify the quality of interior spaces.”

The center serves families and provides a safe, nurturing and inspiring environment for children to grow socially, physically and intellectually. It also offers a place for children to experience the rhythm of the days and seasons, inspiring their imaginations, empowering them to learn through play and creativity. It imparts dignity, grace and joy to the children, families and community members whom the center serves.

“This was a great opportunity to imagine with Kresge and our community partners the impactful and empowering presence of an educational facility and sanctuary that equals the aspirations of its curriculum and mission,” Blackwell said. “The Marygrove EEC is a befitting catalyst for life-long learning for the young students and families who attend and will attend the school over the years to come.” 

The ARK: Rural Botanical Garden for Arkansas

The ARK: Rural Botanical Garden for Arkansas is the centerpiece of new hospitality and eco-tourism landscapes under development at Cherokee Village, a rural mid-century planned community in the Ozarks. Legacy woodland-wildflower prairie planting assemblages once dotting the managed pre-Columbian landscape of the region are recalled in this now woodland-only ecosystem. Clearings at the scale of urban blocks are created to house a series of botanical rooms carved into the dense forest cover. Inverted pyramidical rooms negotiate visitor passage along the steep terrain paralleling the drama of nearby Mississippian Mound Builder earthworks that landmark flatter terrain.

“The idea of outdoor rooms that harken back to their ecological history and purpose is artfully imagined in this assemblage,” said James Burnett, jury member for the 2022 AN Best of Design Awards. “The backdrop of dense forest is used to great effect here, especially as the rooms are imagined at great height with hanging gardens and a zipline.”

Perception of the wood-screened structures are constantly shifting between monumentality and transparency in accordance with the visitor’s movement. Interactions among screened rooms, organic plant assemblages, steep slopes and forest cover create a parallax that simultaneously upholds and denies the garden’s monumental scale. This place-based asset provides informal and formal event space presently missing in this bedroom community.

“As Cherokee Village re-envisions its future, a community exclusively structured around suburban residential land use, we are introducing place-based civic projects that amplify new kinds of living arrangements,” Luoni said. “Camp meetings and summer resorts prevalent in early Ozark urban development hold key lessons for integrating work, leisure, heritage and sociable forms of living. Our expansion of John Cooper’s vision for this forest-and-lake community includes development of botanical experiences as a connective network linking lakefront neighborhoods.”

Young Architects Award

The Architect’s Newspaper recognized Somewhere Studio with the Young Architects Award honorable mention for their focus on public space design projects that explore new strategies for space activation and material reutilization, including Salvage Swings (2019), The Shelter Project (2021) and Mix and Match (2022).

“We are honored that the jury recognized this series of small yet impactful projects that we have had the privilege of developing through conversations and making with the community of students, staff and faculty at the Fay Jones School,” Colangelo and Sharpless said. “We look forward to continuing this design research in 2023 with a public space installation in Columbus, Indiana, as Exhibit Columbus University Design Research Fellows.”

Colangelo and Sharpless’ work provides opportunities for community engagement and conversation through their programming that seeks to activate urban spaces. In their past projects, some of these active elements include swing sets, pantries, rainwater harvesting, bus shelters, seating, musical performances and screen-printing presses.

Additionally, their work critically considers the built environment’s material geography by demonstrating novel uses of building construction by-products or “waste” material in the project’s fabrication, assembly and re-use. The projects presented for this awards jury used discarded shipping pallets, facilitator lumber and steelyard scrap metals in their construction.

By overlaying playful programming and experimental material strategies into temporary structures in the public realm, these designers’ work aims to generate awareness, imagination and rethinking of the often-abstract lifecycles of material consumption and disposal that form the human relationships between the natural and built environments.

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