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Thaden School

Marlon Blackwell Architects

Bentonville, Arkansas, United States



Marlon Blackwell (Founder at Marlon Blackwell Architects), Steve Dumez (Design Director at EskewDumezRipple)


Andropogon Associates (Landscape Architect), Engineering Consultants, Inc. (ECI) (Structural Engineer), Ecological Design Group (Civil Engineer), CMTA Consulting Engineers (MEP Engineer), Milestone Construction (Construction/ Contractor


Thaden School


Timothy Hursley


The Thaden School project emerges from a comprehensive understanding of its needs and aspirations, encapsulating a visionary spatial program that seamlessly integrates both interior and exterior spaces. The spatial layout is meticulously crafted to adhere to the vision that the school might provide a learning environment beyond benchmarks and standards, a place where landscape and buildings might work together in a closed loop of production and consumption—the goal being not to just outperform comparable buildings but rather to tell a story about building performance that would invite users to understand systems in play at every scale.
The innovative "Wheels," "Meals," and "Reels" program pedagogy of Thaden always envisioned a curriculum where students would apply what they learned in the classroom outside the classroom in hands-on application. In this spirit, school leadership looked to supplement student experiences with participation in local community programming. For this reason, the master planning process was kicked off with a gathering of nearly thirty individuals from the school’s leadership, the design staff, and more than a dozen community and nonprofit organizations.
Architecturally, the campus blends contemporary design with local agricultural elements, paying homage to the region's heritage and fostering a sense of community. Material, structural, and construction innovations enhance sustainability, including reclaimed materials and geothermal wellfields. Environmental objectives drive the project, focusing on ecological restoration, water conservation, and stormwater management. The campus serves as a living laboratory for native plants and sustainable practices, fostering outdoor education and community engagement.


The Thaden School project embodies a profound connection with its site and surroundings, epitomizing a holistic approach to education and community engagement. Situated in Bentonville, Arkansas, amidst the captivating Ozark landscape, the school stands as a vibrant cornerstone within the urban fabric. Its location within this unique setting, characterized by a rich agricultural heritage and diverse ecosystems, profoundly influences both its design and mission.
A crucial question emerged during the design planning process: how does one responsibly become part of a growing urban environment, and simultaneously create the vast open space needed to connect children with a longstanding regional agricultural identity?
Early on, the design team took precedents from local vernacular, particularly the idea of the regional farmstead and latched onto an idea for the campus of the “urban pastoral.” This idea meant that the campus would seamlessly marry a modern notion of urban development as a catalyst for energizing cities and a historical respect for agricultural elements from the local vernacular.
This initiative represents a collaborative effort, bridging the ethos of an independent school with a commitment to community partnership. The Thaden School initiative transcends mere physical infrastructure to become a catalyst for urban revitalization. Strategically positioned within Bentonville's downtown area, the school serves as a vital link connecting various districts and fostering engagement with the broader community. Through proactive collaboration and inclusive programming, both within the school and with external stakeholders, Thaden School embodies a vision of education as a catalyst for social and environmental progress.


The Thaden School campus has significantly exceeded expectations in its initial period of use. The project's holistic approach to design, integrating educational philosophy with sustainable architecture and community engagement, has yielded remarkable results. Energy and environmental performance have surpassed initial modeling, with the campus achieving a 70% greater efficiency compared to similar schools. This translates not only to substantial cost savings but also to a reduction of over 1,400 metric tons of CO2 emissions annually, equivalent to the environmental impact of 150 homes or 300 passenger cars.
Beyond its environmental achievements, the project has brought about numerous unexpected benefits. The emphasis on community engagement has fostered strong bonds between the school and its neighbors, transforming the campus into a vibrant hub of activity. Festivals and events staged in the courtyard have become highlights of the local calendar, further integrating the school into the fabric of Bentonville's community landscape. The project's innovative design elements, such as the incorporation of reclaimed materials and structures, have set new standards for sustainability and architectural excellence in the region.
The decision to create a campus that responded not only to educating children’s minds, but their bodies and spirits, has proven to be a definitive boon during the pandemic, when student health and wellness is suffering nationwide. Access to outdoor spaces, classrooms and support spaces with ventilation, views to the outdoors, and abundant natural light have all proven, in educators’ minds, an ameliorative balm during trying times.

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