Marlon Blackwell Architects unveils design for new air traffic control tower in Columbus, Indiana

Ground Control to Major Tom

Marlon Blackwell Architects unveils design for new air traffic control tower in Columbus, Indiana

The air traffic control tower will rise 128 feet. (Conica)

Most people don’t associate air traffic control towers with high-design. This kind of airport infrastructure is typically made to perch quietly above the runway, spotted from afar. Now, a new design by Marlon Blackwell Architects for a regional airport in Columbus, Indiana, bucks this trend and makes a monument out of the utilitarian typology.

In the coming months, a new air traffic control tower by the Fayetteville, Arkansas–based office will replace an existing 80-year-old structure at Columbus Municipal Airport. It will be financed by a grant from the Cummins Foundation Architecture Program, the same group that has sponsored many of Columbus’s architectural gems.

Renderings by Marlon Blackwell Architects show a 128-foot-tall tower with a distinctive profile that recalls other buildings the office completed like Thaden School Bike Barn in Bentonville, Arkansas; or Keenan Tower House in Fayetteville.

In elevation, the air traffic tower in Columbus will rise tall above its flat, bucolic environs. Two of the four facades will open up like accordions, defined by seven distinct ribs that filter natural light into interior spaces. The other two facades will be opaque and clad with aluminum panels.

aerial view of columbus air traffic control tower showing surroundings
The air traffic control tower will be one of the few tall structures in the Columbus area. (Conica)

Marlon Blackwell Architects beat out stiff competition to design the tower, including submissions from SO – IL, Höweler + Yoon, studio:indigenous, and Snow Kreilich. Their contribution marks the first time that an office from the U.S. south will build in the heralded city chock full of modernist masterpieces. “It’s an honor to be a part of the design legacy in Columbus,” Marlon Blackwell told AN. “It’s an even greater honor to be the first architect from the south to build here.”

The air traffic control tower that Marlon Blackwell Architects envisions will be different from others like it for a few reasons, aside from aesthetics. Upon completion, Columbus Municipal Airport’s tower will be accessible to the public. “It’s going to have public event space, as well as an educational room where kids and students can simulate working in an air traffic control tower,” Blackwell shared. “There will also be an events lawn for concerts and markets.”

Brian Payne, director of Columbus Municipal Airport, is working with Marlon Blackwell Architects on the project and events coordinating. Guy Nordensen is the project’s structural engineer, TM Light is the light designer, and Woolpert is the aviation design consultant.

Construction will begin in February 2025, and is anticipated for completion in 2026.