When we think about architecture in the South, we tend to envision Greek Revival double-gallery mansions, Gothic Revival churches, and Italianate and Beaux-Arts commercial and government structures. But architects in Jackson, Miss., are now threading modern lines and materials into this historic fabric.
“Vernacular Southern architecture holds a nostalgic sway that yields both good and faithful replicas as well as strange translations into modern materials,” explains Anne Marie Decker, AIA, a principal of Jackson-based Duvall Decker Architects. “The best influence of vernacular architecture is an understanding of how to capitalize on the range of Southern light and shadow, and how to shape buildings for the climate.”
Though 200 miles inland from the Gulf, Jackson still gets plenty of tropical rainstorms and loads of heat and humidity, all of which have to be taken into account when designing roofs, building envelopes, and cladding. And then there’s the local Yazoo clay, an expansive soil that makes foundation and stormwater design critically important. It can add to the per-square-foot cost for proper design, according to Wayne Timmer, AIA, principal with local firm WFT Architects.
As the recession caught up with the Crossroads of the South, private development stalled and most new projects began to be financed with public funding. “Jackson Public Schools is completing the final projects for the second of two large recent bond issues, and all the surrounding suburbs have had major school construction projects,” says J. Carl Franco, AIA, of local firm JH&H Architects. “The University of Mississippi Medical Center has been undergoing a major expansion and upgrade for the past five to 10 years, and long-range plans are to continue with this growth and expansion.”
Even with public financing clearing the way for what few projects are moving forward in Jackson, architects are nevertheless pulling off progressive design feats.
At Tougaloo College, the $7.7 million Bennie G. Thompson Academic & Civil Rights Research Center was funded by private donors and the U.S. Department of Education Historically Black College & University Loan Program. The facility won a 2011 Honor Award from AIA Mississippi. And a $9.7-million University of Mississippi Medical Center School of Pharmacy building used university and U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration funds.
The new $136 million U.S. Courthouse was wholly federally funded by the General Services Administration. Slated for LEED-NC Silver, it won the 2011 AIA National Academy of Architecture for Justice Award of Merit.
“The best design work here is not decorative or flashy, but substantial and timeless,” Decker says. “It requires creative combinations of funding sources, grassroots efforts and public–private partnerships. It is an opportunity for creativity in both design and development.”