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Of Towers and Smoky Rooms

Notes from Robert Ivy, FAIA

It is impossible to divorce the work of Fay Jones from an Arkansas hillside. Last Friday night, we made our way up the ridge above Fayetteville, dipping down the swales and climbing precipitously toward the summit, then turned abruptly on East Arlington toward the light. There, rising up into the tree canopy, fully illuminated like a long horizontal lantern, rose the clerestory of the Buckley House.

As in all of Fay’s work, the integration of pathway, experience, site, and discovery merge with the architectural expression. Despite the fact that I had never visited the house during the research for my book on Jones, I had assumed familiarity with its plan, only to be surprised by his inventiveness once again. We parked on the street, passed along the driveway in the dark, turning toward the walkway leading to the front door. This turning is intentional, meant to change perception and attitude for a building directly fronting an active street.


The interior glowed and stretched horizontally, stepping down from a full cross pathway toward a central living space, then out to the hillside. Spaces receded to the left and right, offering glimpses of other levels and hinting at other places for respose or activity. The eye could both sweep the entirety and rest on any given object, such as the craftsmanlike lanterns that define the entry hall and dining areas, or the expanse of cabinetry that runs in articulated ranks along corridors.

Indirect lighting, universally employed, warmed the spaces, illuminating the collections of pottery and the artwork with incandescent warmth. Outside, spent leaves littered the stone deck, softened by Fall rain, which filled the sky with mist. I remembered how seductive and smoky this wonderful work can be, and why I devoted years to following Jones’s work—it is fully engaging.

Flash forward to another promontory, further along the ridge. A tower stands like an iconic sentinel, overlooking the valley. Ulike the Jones work, which stretches alongside the hill, this tower stands straight up like a tree, or a tower.

We climb up Mr. Keenan’s, the client’s, steps, up and up to the elevated pavilion built by Marlon Blackwell. We removed our shoes to protect the pecan floors and gasped at the view. Most of the guests that evening were architects, arrayed around the room in black garb, almost as if “styled” by a magazine. Up on the roof, we peeled off our socks and stood in the puddles, soaking up the 360 degree views up toward Springdale, filling up with light, or down toward the University. A small American city, near its geographic center, where real architecture reigns. Not all Architecture occurs in New York.

For information on Fay Jones, by Robert Ivy, click here.

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