Walton Family Foundation Announces Design Excellence Program

Dean Peter MacKeith, a member of the program selection committee
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Dean Peter MacKeith, a member of the program selection committee

BENTONVILLE, Ark. - The Walton Family Foundation has announced a plan that will elevate the quality of architectural and landscape design in Benton and Washington counties in Arkansas. The new initiative, called the Northwest Arkansas Design Excellence Program, will promote the highest level of design in the development of future public buildings and spaces.

Karen Minkel, Home Region program director at the Walton Family Foundation, outlined the vision for the project. 

"The establishment of a design excellence program in Northwest Arkansas was driven by our strategic approach to preserve our region's sense of place," said Minkel. "Over the last 25 years, the population in Northwest Arkansas has more than doubled, creating opportunities and challenges in planning and design. The Northwest Arkansas Design Excellence Program will encourage quality design of public spaces, while complementing the rich architectural history of our urban fabric."

Through this program, the Walton Family Foundation will provide financial support to entities such as school districts; county, state or local municipalities; and nonprofit organizations that intend to develop space for public purposes. Funds will be earmarked for all phases of design work.

The Northwest Arkansas Design Excellence Program is inspired by a similar enterprise in Columbus, Indiana, by the Cummins Foundation.

The first phase of the program will involve the selection of world-class designers who would be considered for future projects as announced. Local, national and international designers will have the opportunity to submit their work for review by a panel of distinguished design professionals and educators. 

The inaugural selection committee includes Victor Dover, principal-in-charge at Miami-based Dover, Kohl & Partners;  Elizabeth Meyer, professor and dean of the University of Virginia School of Architecture; Karen Minkel, Home Region program director for the Walton Family Foundation; Cynthia Weese, founding principal of Chicago-based Weese Langley Weese Architects, Ltd.; and Peter MacKeith, dean of the Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design at the University of Arkansas.

The dean of the Fay Jones School will be a member of this committee as it moves forward. Dean Peter MacKeith said this program will have a great impact on the local culture. 

"One of the most important tasks our committee will have is ensuring architects, landscape architects and urban designers working within the Northwest Arkansas Design Excellence Program understand our region," said MacKeith. "Our colleagues should be able to reflect and complement the strong place-based design qualities that characterize the region, from the vernacular to the modern. The talent, skill and knowledge of the Arkansas design professions, along with national and international best practices, will advance the region as a recognized home for American architecture and design."

While the program will be open to professionals at local, national and international levels, it is intended to foster regional design excellence and potential cooperation between in-state and out-of-state firms. A local approach will also be used when considering materials sourcing for the proposed designs in an effort to maintain sustainable development practices.

Northwest Arkansas already features the work of renowned architects such as Moshe Safdie, who designed the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, and Fay Jones, designer of the award-winning Thorncrown Chapel in Eureka Springs.

In order to develop a selection process that's accessible to young talent, the committee will also place a heightened level of emphasis on innovation and creativity.

Designers interested in the program will be able to apply through Sept. 16. The Northwest Arkansas Design Excellence Program expects to support up to three projects each year. 

A comprehensive review of the application process and detailed instructions on how to apply are available at www.waltonfamilyfoundation.org/design.

Read the complete release from the Walton Family Foundation.


Luis Gonzalez, senior communications officer for home region
Walton Family Foundation
479-802-7317, lgonzalez@wffmail.com

Michelle Parks, director of communications
Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design
479-575-4704, mparks17@uark.edu


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