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    2024 Design Conference attendees in front of "Thaden School" by Marlon Blackwell Architects in Bentonville.

Texas Society of Architects descended on Northwest Arkansas for our 2024 Design Conference on February 29 — March 3. Attendees enjoyed exclusive tours and lectures and left inspired by great design! Read a recap of their time from Austin attendee Darwin Harrison, AIA.

Day One — February 29

21C Museum Hotel — lime green penguins everywhere
Architects arriving from all around Texas (and even Australia)
$5,000 large penguin (did anyone take the plunge and splurge on the big one?)
$40 small penguin 

The penguins get moved all over, and sometimes placed at your door in the middle of the night to surprise you — a colleague tried to surprise me one morning but he placed it outside the wrong door! Was it at your door?        

Each 21C hotel has its own color penguin. This trip I added the lime penguin to my collection (small of course) — seven more to collect!

The gathering begins after lunch…

100 attendees — sold out in 4 hours!
many dressed in black
most with cool shoes
and even cooler spectacles      

“I knew it was a group of architects a mile away.”

—café cashier

Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art

Soundbite commentary: 
“Beautiful concrete work with crisp, clean edges — inset wood detail, how will it last?” 
“Structural exuberance, structural elegance, and maybe even a little structural excess? You be the judge.” 

Hundreds of artists from Frank Lloyd Wright, Jeff Koons, Louise Bourgeois, James Turrell, O’Keefe, Haring, Pollack, and more.

11,360 steps — tiring, inspiring day ends.

Day Two — March 1

Roberto de Leon, FAIA — de Leon and Pimmer Architecture Workshop 

Workshop indeed — this is the type of firm that bloodies a few hands cutting metals and other materials to experiment and strive for bold design ideas and even bolder material choices. I especially appreciated the one example that illustrated several failed attempts to get a masonry corner idea elegantly resolved and ultimately not making it happen exactly as envisioned. We all fail sometimes to get that one detail perfect. 

Lawrence Scarpa, FAIA & Angela Brooks, FAIA — Brooks & Scarpa

A powerful talk about the fundamental need for beauty while urging all of us to think beyond the traditional definitions of beauty. 

Key observations: 

  1. It is powerful when people engage. 
  2. There is a fine line between beauty and the peculiar. 
  3. There can be emotional beauty — engage with the work. 
  4. Bring the client along and magic can happen. 
  5. It is amazing what you can do when you don’t care about the credit. 
  6. Access to beauty is a moral issue. 
  7. Beauty is the promise of happiness. 
  8. Functional beauty — a beauty from life lived, life experienced, life engaged and lives appreciated. 

The takeaway is this: as architects we have the profound ability, and in fact responsibility, to strive for and create beauty (happiness) for all. 

Are you in?

Day Two Tours: Bentonville Residence: A Street House by Marlon Blackwell; Mildred B. Cooper Chapel by Fay Jones; Ledger Building and Thaden School by Marlon Blackwell.

8,562 steps (most at the Ledger) — Another tiring but inspiring day 

Day Three — March 2

Florian Idenburg, AIA and Jing Liu, AIA — SO-IL

Inefficient! – how to respond when a developer calls your compelling work ‘amazing yet inefficient’ — maybe we need more inefficiency. 

Robert Ivy, FAIA

Really enjoyed this personal account of a life focused on design and the understanding and writing that came about from a career focused on experiencing architecture — compelling and memorable.

Many depart inspired to contemplate and identify the threads that link our own lives, our work and our personal observations and appreciation for architecture.  What are your threads?

Day Three Tours: E. Fay & Gus Jones Residence, Marlon & Ati Blackwell Residence, Shaw Residence.

Reception at the Blackwell Office at Day’s End

114 signed-in guests
Good food
Good drink
19 bottles of wine
68 cans of beer
Good camaraderie
Larry Scarpa demonstrates his new career as book salesman
37 books sold — equals 224 pounds (6.05 pounds each) — felt every pound of mine in my luggage but worth it
52 books signed
Signed a government form that probably enlists us in some mysterious architecture cult

8,986 steps — tired and inspired again, a reoccurring theme.

Day Four — March 3

Thorncrown Chapel

48 feet tall x 24 feet wide x 60 feet long
Seats up to 100
425 windows — 6,000-sf of glass
100 tons of native stone
1 major glass cleaning each year with year-round touch-up
Witnessed young tourist walk right into back wall — ‘Wow, real glass, so clean’ he uttered as he bounced off the glass

Governor Orval E. Faubus Residence

Built 1967
212 feet long — dominant horizontality
Again, don’t be tall, at least in some areas
LONG cantilever balcony
Layered, complex spaces

Tours complete — exhausted and ready to go home but energized as well, where is the next one?
Mass exodus, everyone headed in different directions, but unified by moments of awe and inspiration.
8,009 steps today
2 buses
113 miles — too many turns to count

Parting Words

36,917 steps total
5 presentations
10+ Project Tours — Do you have a favorite?
772 Photos — How many did you take?

Share your DesCon photos with the group using this Google Drive link!


Thanks to the organizers who clearly put a ton of work into making this event happen. It takes a lot of time and effort to prepare beforehand and untold amounts of patience to herd this many architects around for 3.5 days. Thanks to Arlena Buck, TxA Director of Conferences and Meetings, Danielle Darby, and the TxA staff that assisted. Thank you to the Design Conference Committee members, especially committee chair Cale Lancaster AIA, and Kim Krutsch, our Visit Bentonville liaison. A massive thanks also goes out to Michael Malone, FAIA, and Mark Wellen, FAIA. Together, they created this event 12 years ago and it has become an annual gathering not to be missed.



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It was a great conference and this is a wonderful and witty summary of an action packed and exciting weekend.

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Being apart of the committee was an incredible experience.The conferences just keep getting better each year. Micheal & Mark have stared a legacy event worthy of decades to come. The recap article was classic Darwin Harrison style. Perfectly styled with humor, facts and in depth experiences worth reading. It reminds of your articles in the Texas Tech College of Architecture Students newsletter. Just hope you don’t get any back lash like the old days. It was great to see you again.


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