I saw a lecture by Marlon Blackwell last night. Funnily, given my penchant for forgetting names, it wasn’t until I saw them strung together tonight that a number of projects that I had seen and remembered were connected to a single individual, and his body of work became apparent to me. And it is a good body of work. As he spoke, I discovered he has a way of working and an approach to architecture that speaks to me and that I think is a good place to stand for architects in general. The theme of the lecture series this year is “Origins”, and he used the opportunity not only to tell about his background, but moreso about the experiences therein that he brings to inform his architecture. He also wove the tales of origins for each of his projects, showing their often daunting or bizarre starting points and how they weaved those originating points, experiences, and intentions to form the architecture. Perhaps one of the most striking thing about the majority of the projects were their modesty, especially in budget. It was about the experience of the space, the sharpness of the details (without blowing the bank), the willingness to get the hands dirty and invent and reinvent and be resourceful and clever, keeping the gaze focussed on the end desires. And he knew it was a practice. He’d not arrived anywhere, it was always a journey.
Perhaps most famous, and what I knew him for, is a church he did in Springdale, Arkansas, staring with a 3-door garage cum welding shed as the base structure for a congregation with barely a budget to spend. The result is a splendid little affair, with good spatial qualities, great light, a clever floor plan, and even a dome, of sorts, fashioned from an old satellite dish at the cost of two cases of beer.
It was a great talk, and I’m going to leave you with this huge Paraphrase of the Day, distilling a number of his thoughts into one unified whole:
“At any size, at any place, at any program, architecture can happen. Architecture is taking the ordinary and raising the experience to the extraordinary. It happens in the intersection of the grand to the mundane. There is no budget threshold before architecture can happen, that’s not what limits you or your architecture. There’s no client threshold before architecture can happen, that’s not what limits you or your architecture. There is no threshold period before architecture can happen: create architecture no matter what and where. Start from the origins and you work forward from there. It is not style; style is the result of a thesis, theory, work, generation, it is not the starting point. Be inventive. Be approachable. Be like Velcro, and let things stick. There is no place for or not a place for architecture. Architecture can and does arise everywhere. Be not bogged down. Use your language, but be not bogged down. Let the moments happen.“