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Bay St. Louis architects rebuilding lives, community the green way

Bay St. Louis architects Allison and John Anderson share their lives through careers, family and interests. They work together at their firm, Unabridged Architecture, which is presently located in their home. These two LEEDS-certified professionals, along with their environmentally-sound home, survived Hurricane Katrina and are helping rebuild the area in a positive way.

“Architecture is an optimistic act, like planting a tree,” Allison said. “All the stakeholders have dreams and vision. The storm was like warfare, and now we can create architecture that uses resources responsibly. We encourage density and inclusion.”

Both Andersons are vitally interested in seeing those principles put into action on the Coast. They worked with the governor’s design charrettes and have continued to be on architecture teams in Mississippi and Louisiana.

It’s a long way from Waikiki Beach, Hawaii, to Bay St. Louis, but that’s the journey Allison’s life has taken. She grew up in the Princess Kauilani Hotel where her dad was general manager.

“It was a very privileged childhood ,but I didn’t know it at the time,” she says looking back. “We had room service in an elegant hotel and that beautiful beach to enjoy.”

She did, however, get a taste of Mississippi because her mother is from Meridian and summers were sometimes spent there.

The Andersons met while they were in school at the University of Southern California. A photography buff, Allison began her studies in film making but switched to architecture because she was fascinated with the intersection of art and building and the visual and spatial characteristics.

“I thought architecture would be something I could do throughout my lifetime and never get bored with it,” she says. “There are always new ideas. It’s something you never master. You’re always learning.”

John grew up in Las Vegas where he was around construction a lot with his contractor dad. He worked on job sites every summer but decided that work was not for him.

“It was hot and hard, but I was always interested in building design,” he recalls. “I loved it when Dad brought home plans. I was one of those kids who figured out at 10 years old what I wanted to do.”

After marriage, the couple lived in John’s hometown for a while where they worked on designs for casinos and hotels.
They began working their way toward Mississippi with graduate school in Austin, Texas, followed by a teaching stint for her at Louisiana State University and work with a New Orleans architectural firm for him. The Andersons moved to Waveland in 1995.

They and their children, Hannah, Noah and Sarah, moved into their new eco-friendly home in Bay St. Louis in July 2005. A few weeks later, it had eight feet of water in it but was still standing after Katrina. They were able to restore it quickly because it was built to a disaster-resistant code.

“The damage was considerably less than other houses. It had remarkable resilience,” John said. “That’s a testament to the way it was built.”

The contemporary residence utilizes local, recycled and reclaimed materials with highly efficient glazing, appliances and air-conditioning equipment. In a fun nod to the environment, the home even has one section of green roof planted with native plants.

The Andersons are in the process of building an office on Main Street where they and their employees can expand their space and projects.

“We have a good work load now but will do more in the new office,” John said. “We’re trying to design it as a prototype for the community with mixed use that will include some retail and residential use. It’s our interpretation of the spirit of the place. We hope people can look at it as a symbol.”

Some of their current projects include six hurricane shelters for Hancock County and a fire station for Bay St. Louis that incorporate green techniques, longevity and safety. All projects are designed for survivability and durability.

“It’s an intriguing problem to create these designs,” Allison says. “The shelters’ design is shaped by the forces of wind. They are earthen berms with a curved roof to withstand 200 mile-per-hour winds and built to FEMA standards. We are applying the same standards to the fire station, which has a different design. It’s a wonderful challenge, and we must have an awareness of the risks.”

Although there is some resistance to green building, he feels enthusiasm is on the rise. “There are a lot of reasons people are against it. The biggest objection is cost,” he said. “Green building requires spending a little more to construct but it saves in the long term. We look at it as an investment.”

Rebuilding smaller and smarter is important, too. “We cannot replicate the past,” Allison said. “I hope people understand sustainability. We must be innovative. Buildings use up to 60% of the world’s resources, and that doesn’t include the trees we cut down. Anything we can do to make them more responsible is a move in the right direction.”

She feels man must acknowledge climate and place in design. “We must accept the power of nature. We can’t pretend that man can dominate nature,” she said. “We’ve had a reminder of that. Architecture is like alchemy. We want to integrate it in such a way that it is innovative and works with the site.”
The Andersons’ biggest challenge is keeping up with the amount of work they have while staying involved with rebuilding the community. “We try to keep up with all the issues and try to do the right thing,” John said. “We have a great little community here and must get the physical fabric back. I give us four or five years for that.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynn Lofton at llofton656@aol.com.

About Lynn Lofton

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