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Architects find design inspiration from range of sources

People have been designing structures since before recorded history, looking to maximize both form and function. There are seemingly an unlimited number of styles and philosophies, and nearly as many designers as there are schools of thought, some of whom, such as Christopher Wren and Frank Lloyd Wright, are familiar names even to non-architects.

So, what designers do Mississippi architects admire? Whose work inspires them, and why?

Drawing inspiration

For Larry Albert, AIA, president of Albert and Associates Architects, P.A., in Hattiesburg, the two designers that he finds fascinating are the Japanese architect Tadao Ando and Steven Holl. He said he admires both men for their design of quality space and quality of construction.

Holl, who is based in New York, has designed many noted structures. These include the undergraduate dormitories at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Whitney Waterworks Park and Water Treatment Facility in Hamden, Ct. and the expansion and renovation of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.

Albert is a special fan of Ando, a former truck driver and boxer and self-taught designer who is a stickler for quality construction. Some of his noted works include the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts in St. Louis, Benetton Communication Research Center in Treviso, Italy, and numerous projects in his home country.

“There’s a story that he once punched out a worker who he saw flip his cigarette butt into the concrete mixer,” he said. He added with a laugh, “No American architect would have the nerve to do that.”

Albert said one design he particularly admires is Ando’s Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth (Texas). “I went down and saw it. I recommend everyone make the trip,” he said.

Richard McNeel, AIA, partner at JBHM Architects, is inspired by the work of maverick Frank Lloyd Wright.

“He pushed the edge for the development of new design directions,” McNeel said.

Ann Somers, AIA, with Cooke, Douglass, Farr, Lemons/Ltd. of Jackson had no trouble picking her favorite —James Stewart Polshek. Polshek Partnership Architects, LLP, is based in New York, and is known for great designs such as the Rose Center for Earth and Science in New York.

“His buildings aren’t ego-driven,” Somers said. “They are beautifully designed and fit into context. But, they are different from one to the next depending on the context they are in.”

Dr. Larry Barrow is an admirer of Santiago Calatrava. Born in Alabama and a University of Florida graduate, Professor Barrow practiced architecture for 15 years, earned both master’s and doctoral degrees from Harvard before coming to Mississippi State University’s (MSU’s) School of Architecture approximately six years.

Calatrava is a Spaniard who began his career as an engineer. Influenced by the architect Le Corbusier, Calatrava melded engineering and architecture, and it is this that Barrow admires — his use of structural material to create complex, striking form such as the Milwaukee Museum of Art and the BCE Place Galleria in Toronto, Canada.

“His designs are simply beautiful pieces of art,” Barrow said. (Calatrava is also a noted painter and sculptor.). “His use of structural material and naturalistic style is just marvelous.”

David Landry, president of Landry and Lewis Architects, P.A., in Hattiesburg, bucked the trend somewhat. Landry said there is no architect or particular school or style he admires. His approach is more open book.

“We do what we have to do to get the project done,” he said. “When we need fresh ideas, we look in the trade publications, then incorporate that into our design. I don’t really lean toward one architect or style.”

Tomorrow’s designers

Seasoned architects have a variety of preferences. So, what about the next generation of designers? Who are their inspirations? It seems the taste of soon-to-be architects is as varied as those already practicing.

“My students are inspired by what they see in magazines,” Barrow said. “They admire a variety of architects.”

While inspirations vary from student to student, Barrow said many of his students admire the work of Frank O. Gehry. A design principal with the firm Frank O. Gehry and Associates Inc., the Canadian has won too many awards to list, and his projects run the gamut from the University of Iowa Advanced Technologies Laboratory in Iowa City, Iowa, to the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles.

Justin Taylor is one of Barrow’s students. A native of Tishomingo, Taylor earned his undergraduate degree from MSU and is currently working on his master’s.

He identified four designers, including one team, all British, as his favorite. They are Sir Norman Foster, Renzo Piano and the design team of Ray and Charles Eames.

“What I admire about Foster’s work is the tremendous focus on detail — everything from the light switches to the overall concept of the building,” Taylor said. “Piano consistently goes over and beyond the calling of architecture. And Ray and Charles Eames are fun — they are carefree and are not afraid of risks or of failing.”

Interestingly, Taylor said he doesn’t hear a consensus among his peers as far as influences. What does resonate with him and his classmates is minimal environmental impact.

“It’s ingrained in us, and is a passion of most students,” Taylor said. “It’s not just about, say, using sustainable materials, but a much broader spectrum. Unfortunately, we inhabit space today that is, in my opinion, simply awful. I think we all feel that way, and want to change it.”

Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at northway@msbusiness.com.

About Wally Northway

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