David McKee’s office stands just outside the trail entrance at the opening of the Fay Jones Woods in Fayetteville. Inside, the office is covered with models and sketches of beautiful homes and other buildings in Northwest Arkansas. Stacks of blueprints line every table in the open space. Stooped over his large desk, David uses his grid sheets and vellum paper to make additions for a home that Fay designed and built. In the 1980s, David was trained by Fay Jones himself. Now, in a world of computer generation, David still hand sketches, like Fay, all of his designs for custom homes and park structures. He’s been using this method as an architect for over 40 years.
Before his career started, David grew up in Northwest Arkansas. He attended the University of Arkansas in the early 1970s. He bounced around different majors like anthropology and history before attaching to the art department. At this time, David started doing construction, masonry, and building structures for he and others in the back-to-the-land movement of the 1970’s. David built a geodesic dome, a cabin for himself, and even a fireplace for his future father-in-law. He was traded a mule for his hard work.
With the skills for construction, the mind for artistic creation, as well as some scholarship money from the Arkansas Masonry Contract Association, David decided to enter the architecture program in 1978, at 27 years old. Soon after, David began learning from Fay Jones. Just as Fay Jones learned from Frank Lloyd Wright, David learned from Fay. David, however, had the privilege to work right under and for Jones. David mentioned how Fay’s skill for teaching made him such a good mentor. “Fay would just throw problems out,” David said. “He would expect me to solve whatever issue there was in the design, so I could build the synapses to learn myself.”
Now, David does much more than just sketch with paper and pencil like Fay.
“This is my restoration era, he said. “I take many of Fay’s old projects, such as houses that families still live in, and renovate them… but I try do so according to the ‘Fay Way.’” David now designs and restores homes and buildings according to the style of his mentor.
Fay Jones once explained his style this way: “The building-site relationship is one of the tenets of organic architecture-this strong sense of the symbiotic relationship of a building to its site. Somehow, you’re trying to look at the ideal aspects of the site, trying to build a building that’s responsive to its environmental context.” With stone, gable roofs, and low structures that adapt to the landscape, David mimics Jones’ traditional style. On his website, David says something wholly similar: “We strive for a timeless quality…rooted in the nature of their place. Buildings that achieve a harmonious relationship and a contextual appropriateness with their surroundings stand the test of time.” David mentioned that while he might seem outdated to current architecture with its modernity and minimalist style, he still holds to the “Fay way.”
Like Fay, the intricacy of David’s designs demands a lot of thought and hard work. “I’m not just a draftsman,” David said. “I like taking people’s investments and turning into something I’m proud of, and they’re proud of.
Currently, David is working on an office building to accompany one of Fay’s projects he had worked on previously, the Mildred B. Cooper Memorial Chapel in Bella Vista. David, however, works mainly with people in Northwest Arkansas trying to create their own beautiful homes. He says he believes part of the American dream is to have your own stake in the ground, where you can call a place your home. David said he takes pride in designing beautiful homes and other structures for those that call Northwest Arkansas their home. “I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else than Northwest Arkansas,” he said. “Except, maybe, I’d have a summer home in Portugal or something like that.”
“I’m not just a draftsman. I like taking people’s investments and turning it into something I’m proud of..."
“I take many of Fay’s old projects...and renovate them, but I try do so according to the ‘Fay Way.’”