Poplarville — Charles Barlow Jr., AIA, CEO of the Jackson-based architectural firm Barlow Eddy Jenkins, P.A., received the good news first from a fellow church member who was loading ice for victims of Hurricane Katrina. Then others started bringing the same report. The Southern Research Horticulture Unit, designed by Barlow’s firm and located in the heavily impacted South Mississippi community of Poplarville, had come through the hurricane unscathed.
“I don’t know how these people even knew the facility was still standing,” Barlow said. “Obviously, I was thrilled that it had withstood 138 mile-per-hour winds. The eye went directly over the facility.”
The Southern Research Horticulture Unit traces it roots back to the early 1900s, and houses the Agricultural Research Service, part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Scientists at the laboratory conduct research on small fruits as well as ornamentals and vegetables.
Ironically, the laboratory originally conducted research on tung oil, an industry that was destroyed by Hurricane Camille in 1969, forcing the Agricultural Research Service to go in a different direction. The facility officially changed its name to the Small Fruits Research Station in 1976. (With the new facility, the laboratory is now called the Southern Research Horticulture Unit.)
Since 1974, the station has published more than 1,000 articles on blueberries and other small fruits, and conducted a wide range of experiments in plant genetics and pathology, pest control and more.
Barlow Eddy Jenkins provided full architectural, engineering and laboratory planning services on the 30,000-square-foot, $7.7-million facility. It consists of laboratories, controlled environment rooms, equipment rooms and greenhouses supported by offices, conference areas and mechanical equipment space.
Dirt work commenced in 2003, and the slab for the main building was poured in January 2004. The contractor is GM&R Construction Inc. of Waveland. The facility was approximately 99% complete when Katrina’s eye passed over it August 29.
Designed to last
That the Southern Research Horticulture Unit withstood Katrina is no accident. Due to its close proximity to the Gulf Coast, the laboratory was braced to meet tropical weather. It also sports a single-pitch roof, which allowed the wind to pass over it rather than apply force to the surface.
Barlow said another design feature might have helped the laboratory to survive Katrina.
“The building has large eaves, which gave us some concern because an eave can cause the wind to dam on the windward side of the building and can lead to roof failure,” he said. “However, the facility has an upward curvature under the eave that allowed at least partial relief of wind pressure and helped prevent eave/roof failure.”
His concerns were unwarranted. Personnel at the laboratory actually went out during the calm created when the eye passed overhead to assess any damage. They found none.
“The wind swung around 180 degrees during Katrina,” Barlow said. “It blew debris up the hill, then back down the hill. But the laboratory still sustained no damage.”
Due to the fact that it came through intact, and because of its backup emergency power capabilities, the Federal Emergency Management Agency is currently using the Southern Research Horticulture Unit as a base of operations during recovery efforts.
Drawing on history
It’s been a long and successful ride for Barlow Eddy Jenkins. Founded in 1958 as Barlow & Plunkett, the full architectural review and planning services firm has been in continual existence for 47 years now, and houses a staff of approximately 14 employees. It has also been a pioneer in many areas, including being the first architectural firm in the state to add an interior design division and construction management services, as well as the first to employ microporcessor-based energy management systems and offer energy-efficient design.
Its primary customers are the institutional, commercial, banking, health, correctional, educational and hospitality industries, with most projects located in Mississippi, though the firm has worked projects as far away as Tennessee and Florida. Significant projects include the Cancer Treatment Center at St. Dominic Memorial Hospital in Jackson, Mississippi Museum of Natural Science in Jackson, Wesley Health Systems in Hattiesburg, the clinical addition at Veteran’s Administration Medical Center in Jackson and Olin Hall at Jackson-based Millsaps College, where the firm has handled all the building projects for nearly two decades.
At one time in the 1970s and 1980s, the firm was one of the largest in the state. However, approximately eight years ago, Barlow Eddy Jenkins underwent an ownership transition, and the firm stopped and did a little self-evaluation. The principals decided it was time to shift its focus.
“We decided we didn’t want to have a firm that was so big that it took us away from drawing,” said Barlow, who earned a bachelor’s degree in architecture from Mississippi State University before furthering his education at the University of Cambridge in England. “We have to run the business, but we like practicing architecture. All of us like to draw, and you can’t do that if you get too big.”
The smaller size leads to personal relationships, as well, something Barlow Eddy Jenkins values. The firm uses state-of-the-are computers and technology for its design work, but there is no voice mail. A call to the firm is answered by a human, not a machine. Perhaps it flies in the face of the stereotypical view of the impersonal architect, but the firm seems to like people as much as it likes designing.
“I believe our key to success is due to a combination of excellent design and unsurpassed, business-minded attention to project documentation. We’re more than just good designers,” Barlow said.
Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at firstname.lastname@example.org.