Firm name: Tall Architects
Location: Ocean Springs, Miss.
Year founded: 2014
Firm leadership: Mark Talley, AIA, and Madison Talley, AIA
Firm size: Five
Education: Mark and Madison: B.Arch., Mississippi State University
How founders met: We met at Mississippi State University’s School of Architecture the first day of first-year studio. When we were asked by Mississippi State last spring to teach in the first-year studio 15 years after our first year, it was hard to not get sentimental about the fantastic ride we have had and the bright futures of the students, some of whom will be in our shoes someday.
Firm mission: We focus on thoughtful architecture, with the aim of always doing something a bit different, a bit cool, and a lot of fun.
How you came up with your firm’s name: Our last name is Talley, so we lopped off the last two letters to get Tall. But the meaning of Tall has always been much deeper and funnier. To us, Tall is a word of aspiration and energy: tall ideas, tall ambitions, tall buildings, etcetera. Also, Madison is not very tall, 4’10” to be exact. When scheming our name, the idea of her giving a lecture wearing a shirt that says “I am Tall” made us laugh.
First commission: We designed our first building together—a large-framed steel building we call “the barn”—that was a project for our family before officially founding Tall. It’s where we got married and lived for eight months when we first started Tall (six months after we got married). We later parked our 1972 Airstream outside of the building, which we also lived in for three years.
Defining project and why: In 2018, we completed our own house, dubbed the “Tall House,” which was an exercise in economy and space. We decided to build only what we could afford at the time. We had previously renovated our Airstream, but tackling a building, especially one where we had carte blanche, was a goal we didn’t imagine we would check off of our list for another 10 to 20 years.
Another important project and why: We were approached in 2017 to design a new sign for the museum dedicated to the work of artist Walter Anderson [The Walter Anderson Museum of Art], an artist now synonymous with the Mississippi Gulf Coast. This small project has led to several other ventures. In 2019, we began renovating and designing an addition to a cottage building the museum uses as an educational facility, and we are currently designing a new building on the same property to complement the addition.
Design tool of choice: Madison: Physical models. The tactility of cutting, gluing, and studying a physical form seems to, unfortunately, be falling to the wayside in most firms, but we’re trying to keep the craft alive.
Mark: Pencil / Microsoft Snipping Tool. While a pencil is infinitely useful, the Snip—which gives one the ability to draw on top of any digital image—is a game changer, albeit one that has been around a long time.
How would you describe the personality of your practice? Playful and Thoughtful
Biggest design challenge the firm has overcome: We have often felt at a disadvantage because we operate in a small southern town with small budgets, but those parameters have forced us to remain scrappy and focused on creating great stuff with minimal resources. Our location is one of our strengths.
One design trend that should be left behind: Buildings made of shipping containers.
Favorite rule to break: Wait for the right time.
On the bookshelf: Madison: Dune, by Frank Hebert (Chilton Books, 1965). I’ve never been one for Science Fiction, but so far, the world created by Frank Herbert is amazingly vivid and architectural. Mark: The Power Broker, by Robert Caro (Knopf, 1974). I’m not exactly 'reading' the book anymore because I finished it the morning of answering this question, but anyone interested in building things should read this tome.