Although architecture may be a traditional Clemson degree, John Blackburn is far from a standard architect. John graduated from Clemson in 1969 and 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.

John started his own firm in the D.C. area and has built a successful career, designing over 250 unique facilities worldwide and publishing a book. 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 a program at Clemson while he was a student

At the peak of his career – and after Clemson developed a landscape architecture program – John felt 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, John did not simply want to create something on campus – he wanted to work directly with students, influencing and expanding how they thought about their field of study.

He began by teaching lectures to Clemson’s equine management students and went on to lead an exercise on campus that brought together students in architecture, landscape architecture and equine management. Under John’s 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.

Not only has the project encouraged students to apply their skills in a practical scenario, but it has also allowed them to collaborate with students in other fields. Collecting interdisciplinary experience will only benefit them
as they move into their career paths, and thanks to John, they have real project experience as well to add to their résumés.

Students put together an architectural model of the Equine Center.

Image Credit: Clemson University

Now that the case study has been completed, John’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,” John 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.” His belief in Clemson, his respect for the faculty, staff and students in the programs he supports, and his desire to give back have contributed to a successful and impactful experience on campus. Regarding John’s rewarding career, he laughed and said, “Horses have fed me for 35 years; it’s time for me to feed the horses.”

If you are interested in supporting the Clemson Equine Center, please reach out to Margaret Owens at mr6@clemson.edu.