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AU alumnus to design Global War on Terrorism Memorial in Washington

Marlon Blackwell

Marlon Blackwell, an Auburn University alumnus and award-winning architect, has been selected to design the future Global War on Terrorism Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. The Global War on Terrorism Memorial Foundation is a nonprofit organization that veterans, military spouses and supportive Americans founded in 2015. The foundation’s goal is to plan, fund and build a national memorial to honor those who served and sacrificed as part of global counterterrorism operations since Sept. 11, 2001.

“It’s a great and humble honor for our firm to design the Global War on Terrorism Memorial,” Blackwell said in a release. “It is a profound opportunity to provide a place to honor all those who have served and sacrificed to defend our country against terrorism, along with the many individuals and families who have been impacted by this conflict with no clear end in sight. Our firm will create a place of reverence, reflection, and restoration which fulfills the Foundation’s vision and mission.”

Blackwell was selected out of a pool of 177 world renowned American and international candidates. The process of selecting a designer began about one year ago, and the 177 candidates were narrowed down to five finalists that were interviewed in June.

Michael “Rod” Rodriguez, the president and CEO of the foundation, said the purpose of this memorial is to honor, heal, empower and unite. Rodriguez served in the U.S. Army for 21 years and stepped into the leadership role with GWOTMF in 2018. His family has a history of serving in the military. His grandfathers served during WWII, his father served during the Vietnam War and his son continues to serve.

In April, the GWOTMF was authorized to begin designing a memorial on the National Mall near the Lincoln Memorial, Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the soon to be completed National Desert Storm and Desert Shield Memorial. The memorial will stand on a piece of land surrounded by 23rd Street, Constitution Avenue and Henry Bacon Drive.

“It’ll provide me a tremendous opportunity to heal. I think of some of the stuff that I carry around, but also allow us to heal as a nation,” Rodriguez said. “I also have faith that this memorial will empower those that have served. Give them a space in our nation’s capital to come together and just have that fellowship and show the world, because again, we have not as a nation done that.”

The project is privately funded and estimated to cost about $100 million. Rodriguez said they plan to complete the memorial and host a dedication for it in 2027. Rodriguez described the process of building a memorial in Washington, D.C. as “long and arduous,” which makes it more important to get started now so the senior leadership at the start of this war will have a chance to see it. There is a 24-step process that goes into this project that includes creating the design concept, receiving approval from various commissions, obtaining permits, raising 110% of construction costs and more. The actual construction will take between 18 to 24 months.

Rodriguez said he really wanted to avoid what happened to the WWII generation where most of the veterans, including both of his grandfathers, never got the chance to see the completed memorial.

“It’s an absolute necessity as a nation for us to come together and recognize the sacrifice of all the brave men and women that have stepped up and served in this incredibly complex, multi-generational, multi-theater war,” Rodriguez said.

Now that Blackwell has been selected, he will begin meeting with members of the Design Advisory Council, which is comprised of Gold Star families, veterans and other Global War on Terrorism stakeholders. Members of DAC, including families who have lost loved ones in service, will advise Blackwell and share their stories to help him generate ideas for the design.

Blackwell said he’s looking forward to listening to their stories and to finding ways to manifest their stories into the design.

“I feel very confident that we’ll come up with something that’s worthy for this site and this place and for the armed forces and civilians that served,” Blackwell said.

Rodriguez believes Blackwell is the right man for the job.

“Marlon’s proven track record as a world-class designer, combined with his personal experiences in a family with a history of military service, will contribute to a design that serves as a lasting tribute to the courage and sacrifice of all who have served in the Global War on Terrorism — especially those who have made the ultimate sacrifice,” Rodriguez said.

Blackwell was born into a military family with a father who served in the Vietnam War. His brother also served in the Gulf War and his step brother served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

He applied to be a designer for this project because he believes it’s important to honor those that have served this country and to help them find ways to heal.

Blackwell graduated from Auburn University in 1980 with a bachelor of environmental design and later earned his masters from Syracuse University. He returned to Auburn University in 2009 to teach as part of the Paul Rudolph Visiting Professorship.

“Auburn was just foundational for me… I had great teachers at Auburn, a diverse set of educators that really challenged me, really challenged my preconceptions about things, (and) helped me open up,” he said.

In 1992, Blackwell opened his firm Marlon Blackwell Architects in Fayetteville, Arkansas, where he continues to work on national and international projects. His firm has received more than 120 national design awards.

The American Institute of Architects honored Blackwell with the 2020 Gold Medal, the organization’s highest honor, recognizing “an individual whose significant body of work has had a lasting influence on the theory and practice of architecture,” according to a release from GWOT.

In 2016, Blackwell received the Cooper Hewitt National Design Award, recognizing his firm’s contributions and influence in architecture nationally.

To make a donation for the construction of the memorial, visit the GWOT Memorial Foundation website.

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