Architecture may be a traditional Clemson degree, but John Blackburn ’69 is far from a traditional architect. He created his own career in equine facility design — designing horse farms and stables that take into account the health of the horse, the demands of the site and the needs of the owner.
Blackburn started his own firm in the D.C. area and has built a successful career, designing more than 250 unique facilities worldwide. He is passionate about using the landscape to influence the building design by studying scientific principles, weather patterns and other natural factors. Because of his design methods, he has developed a special connection with landscape architects, though landscape architecture was not offered while he was a student.
At the peak of his career, Blackburn was motivated to give back to his alma mater, specifically the architecture department. “I’m very proud of the program and what it’s done since I went here,” John said. “It was a good program then, but it’s incredible now. They have a great facility, they have a great staff, they have a great program, and I wanted to see if I could contribute to that.”
Since his career had provided him with skills that many architects might never learn in a traditional field, he reached out to Clemson with the intent of passing along his knowledge. However, Blackburn wanted to work directly with students, influencing and expanding how they thought about their field of study.
He began by giving lectures to equine management students and went on to lead an exercise that brought together students in architecture, landscape architecture and equine management. Under his guidance, the students used the Clemson Equine Center as a case study, examining its design and functionality. The architecture and landscape architecture students acted as consultants for the equine management students, who played the client role, and they worked together to recommend improvements.
Now that the case study has been completed, Blackburn’s vision is to see the students’ work come to fruition. That way, the students will have something tangible on campus that shows their efforts, and Clemson will benefit from having a first-class equine center. “I hope to see it become reality,” he said. “I want to see the students experience a real project and look back over the years as they move on in their careers and say, ‘This is something I contributed to and made successful.’”
When asked why giving back to Clemson was a good idea, John responded immediately by saying, “Because Clemson is a good idea.” Plus, he wants to give back to horses as well. “Horses have fed me for 35 years,” he said. “It’s time for me to feed the horses.”