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Opinion of best structures is wide and varied

Architects list their favorites

Mississippi has a wealth of beautiful, significant, inspiring and historical structures. But what are the 10 best architectural feats in the state? Ask 10 different people and one is likely to get 10 different answers. Each person’s list might include local places unknown outside the area too.

Because architects look at structures through discerning eyes, the Mississippi Business Journal asked several of these professionals to name some structures making their top 10 lists. History figured prominently with both state capitols being frequently named. Other oft-mentioned favorites in Jackson include Bailey Magnet School, the King Edward Hotel, Standard Life, Lamar Life and Plaza Buildings, the War Memorial Building, the Governor’s Mansion, the Woodworth Chapel at Tougaloo College and St. Richard’s Catholic Church.

The Old and New Capitols were praised in terms of history, beauty, the quality of the architecture and their contribution to the lives of state residents.

Jackson architect Wayne Timmer is learning a new appreciation for the New Capital as he works on a master plan that will guide restoration work of the 1904-built facility.

“I’m crawling around in places most people never get to see,” he said. “It is a well-built, amazing building.”

The War Memorial Building gets overlooked, thinks Jackson architect Michael Barranco. “It’s so simple and beautiful sitting next to the Old Capital,” he said. “The architecture of the New Capital and the Governor’s Mansion is absolutely exquisite. The sites for the Mansion and Bailey Magnet School are good examples of the importance of a site to architecture.”

Anne Marie Decker also admires Bailey School and the War Memorial Building. “Bailey is solidly built and sits back off the street with a proud stance,” she said. “The War Memorial Building has a great open courtyard facing the street and an under used auditorium inside.”

Timmer explains that the popular Bailey School is a good, restrained example of art moderne, a derivative of the art deco style.

Another favorite of Decker’s is St. Richard’s Catholic Church, which she considers an innovative project at the time it was built. It utilizes a bridge from the street to the structure and uses lots of natural light inside.

Tupelo architect Michael Jones of the JBHM firm believes in looking at the history of each building on the list.

“Obviously buildings like the state capitols have a lot of history, but look at things like the King Edward Hotel. Most people don’t know it was built in five months,” he said. “The Biloxi Lighthouse has a big impact as an icon, and the Woodworth Chapel at Tougaloo was instrumental as a safe haven in the Civil Rights Movement.”

Architectural achievements don’t have to be buildings. Jones said the Mississippi River Bridges were major undertakings and engineering feats. Bridges are included in listings of America’s favorite architecture.

Jackson architect Steve Davis sees the Emerald Mound built by the Natchez Indians as part of Mississippi’s great architecture.

“It’s amazing what they were able to do without technology. It’s a huge mound near Natchez,” he said. “I passed it early one morning when everything was covered with fog. I climbed up on the mound and it was like being on a green island in the middle of the fog.”

Davis says the mound, the New Capital and the contemporary Pinecote Pavilion at the Crosby Arboretum hit the mark for him for any kind of best architecture list.

The Woodworth Chapel, according to architect Lawson Newman who directed its renovation, was built in 1901 and is thought to be the only religious building in the state in the Queen Anne style.

Architectural accomplishments cited in towns around the state include: the many historic homes of Natchez; Beauvoir and the Biloxi Lighthouse in Biloxi; the domed administration building and Bennett Auditorium on the University of Southern Mississippi campus in Hattiesburg; the Lyceum on the University of Mississippi Oxford campus; and, the Pinecote Pavilion at the Crosby Arboretum.

The list can and does go on and on as anyone who’s driven around the state knows. Hattiesburg architect Larry Albert said, “This state is so rich in architecture, we could do 50 top buildings lists. I heard that a lot when I worked in Texas and that’s one reason I came back. All our downtowns have some quality buildings that were expensive to build and have lasted.”

Everyone sees with different eyes and perspectives, he added, and they especially take pride in places where they live.

Eupora architect Belinda Stewart typifies that point by putting the Hays Barn on her list. “It’s off the beaten path, near Walthall in Webster County,” she said. “It has huge timbers of wood lowest to the ground with a cantilevered overhang with no columns. It was built in the late 1890s or early 1900s.”

A young designer in Stewart’s firm has purchased the barn and surrounding land with plans to renovate the barn and build a home. A sister barn, not in as good a condition, is located down the road. Both were built by a sawmill owner.

Because she has great interest in historic preservation, Stewart lists two restored courthouses. The Tallahatchie County Courthouse in Sumner was built in 1904 and is being restored to its 1955 look. That was the time of the famous Emmett Till trial.

“It’s a period of significance nationally, and the courthouse is on the National Register of Historic Places,” she said. “The courtroom at the Pontotoc County Courthouse is one of the most dramatic things we’ve done. Everything historic had been covered up with a dropped ceiling, paneling and carpeting.”

Stewart also adds the Old Armory building near the Jackson fairgrounds to her list and an all-time favorite of every child who’s visited the Jackson Zoo, the monkey castle on Monkey Island.

A special interest of hers is the Wood College campus in Mathiston. The college closed several years ago and operated briefly as a retreat center before disbanding last year.

“Now its future is uncertain but it’s waiting with opportunity,” she said. “The campus has more than one dozen historic buildings and the unusual Cathedral in the Pines on its rolling hills location.”

Biloxi architect Joey Crain points out that the Lyceum in Oxford is a university icon that represented Mississippi as the backdrop for national coverage during the first 2008 presidential debate, an historic campaign.

“I also put the Emporium Building, the Mississippi State Supreme Court and the State Archives and History Museum in Jackson on my list,” he said. “The Infinity Science Center at Stennis Space Center and the Ohr-O’Keefe Museums of Art and the Coast Coliseum and Convention Center expansion are some notable buildings coming out of the ground on the Coast.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynn Lofton at lynn@lynnsdesk.com.

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