OXFORD — Thanks in part to his key role in the 1998 drafting and adoption of Oxford’s Historic Preservation Ordinance, architect Tom Howorth will be inducted into the American Institute of Architects’ prestigious College of Fellows next month.
Oxford native Tom Howorth’s name will be added to an elite group of architects, one of only a dozen or so in Mississippi, who have been honored for contributions of national significance to the profession. Fewer than 2,300 of the 63,000-plus members in the national organization have received such an honor.
“I’m not a bit surprised,” said Oxford Mayor Pat Lamar. “Tom Howorth is a scholar and a gentleman. We applaud this most recent distinguished honor and we’re proud he is one of us.”
Howorth was chosen for his ability to mix architectural skills with a commitment to bettering the community, including his work on the Oxford Planning Commission in support of historic preservation and his efforts to support public schools, said David Magee, city alderman.
“Most people with his skills and talents don’t move to a small town like this,” Magee said. “He’s made an architectural mark in Oxford.”
Howorth’s dad, retired physician Beckett Howorth, was a school board member for a number of years and raised his five sons — Beckett, Richard, Tom, Andy and David — to “instill a sense of community spirit and involvement in his kids,” Magee said.
The younger Beckett Howorth is director of admissions at the University of Mississippi; Richard Howorth owns Square Books in Oxford; Andy Howorth is an attorney in Oxford; and David Howorth is an attorney in Portland, Ore.
“All of my brothers and both of my parents have at least one degree from Ole Miss except for me,” said Tom Howorth, with a laugh. “I’m crazy about Ole Miss. I just didn’t happen to go to school there.”
Howorth attended Vanderbilt University before getting a degree in architecture from Mississippi State University in Starkville.
“I’m a fan of the school of architecture at MSU, but I’m an Ole Miss Rebel fan when it’s ballgame time,” he said.
Of the recently completed renovations for which his fellowship was considered, the University of Mississippi’s Ventress Hall was completed last year. Also on campus, he oversaw the Barnard Observatory project. He directed restoration of the Barksdale-Isom House that was featured in Country Inn’s February issue as one of the top 10 inns in the U.S. to visit.
“We’re always gratified when a client wins an award,” said Howorth. “While I think the physical attributes of the building may have something to do with it being selected, the main thing is its management and how good the breakfast is that prompted Country Inn to select it this year.”
Even with restoration of historic homes and businesses in Oxford, Howorth saw the importance of a historic preservation ordinance to retain the southern architecture and was on a committee of three that pushed for and adopted an ordinance similar to ones used in the cities of Corinth and Natchez.
“What most people don’t realize is that while the City Square is a national historic district, the status doesn’t protect any structures,” Howorth said. “Anybody who owns a building there can tear it down or modify it in an inappropriate way. Any way to have any control over what future growth looked like was to have a local preservation ordinance. One of the reasons Oxford is enjoying the growth it is is its physically very attractive. Many have worked hard to make sure that, as the community grows, we don’t destroy the attractive qualities.”
Born and raised in Oxford, Howorth lived in Jackson from 1986 to 1995. He was a partner in an architectural firm before he ventured on his own in 1990. Since returning to Oxford, his firm, Howorth & Associates, has grown to include five architects.
Since he resigned from the Oxford Planning Commission, his firm has been hired for several municipal projects and he is part of the team that is designing the 65-acre Oxford City Park that will be located less than a mile from City Square.
“We have a lot of confidence in his work,” Lamar said.
Of the many architects who applied for the new incubator project, Howorth was hired to develop it.
“It’s a big ugly spec-type building like you’d find in an industrial park,” Magee said. “Tom Howorth is the type of guy who can take a metal building and put an incredible spin on it.”
Sometimes, metal buildings are necessary for cost effectiveness and other reasons, Howorth said.
“Building technology is one of the tools that a designer has, not necessarily one of the constraints a designer has,” he said.
The work Howorth has done in Oxford has made a difference, Magee said.
“We’ve been in a real planning and preservation struggle here. When we’re looking for somebody to help us, he’s the one we go to,” he said.