As a child exploring her home’s attic, roof and the space under the stairs, Anne Marie Decker did not know she would become an architect. She just knew she liked spaces and the ways they affect human beings.
“As early as age 4, I can recall getting up before the sun and camping out in the back of the laundry closet,” she said. “In the fifth grade, I was reading a book on careers in the guidance counselor’s office. Humboldt (her home town in Tennessee) was too small to have any architects, so the moment I learned the profession existed, I immediately decided it was the profession for me.”
That choice was a loss to the music world. Although she had been playing the piano since the age of six, Decker did not want piano to be her career. “Architecture seemed like the best opportunity to make forms that could be as elusive and enticing as music and spaces that are as affective as those in my childhood memories,” she recalls.
As one of three daughters, Anne Marie Duvall Decker was reared in Humboldt, Tenn., with a pharmacist father and a nurse mother. She earned an architecture degree at Mississippi State University. In 1998, she and her husband, Roy Decker, launched their Jackson firm.
“My partner and I share a belief that the built environment is both a reflection of and a speculation on our culture,” she says. “In short, we believe the built environment can contribute more than simple shelter. My husband had been splitting his time between teaching and practicing architecture for years. I convinced him that we could have greater educational impact through our practice and work.”
Decker likes the variety of practicing architecture from planning and design options to the technical drawings and construction administration. “What I love most is turning ideas into real materials and details,” she said. “I do not always get to spend time in the finished building, so I am fortunate to love the construction document process.
“Not only do we have to construct an entire building in all of its detail in our minds and in digital space, but we have to describe how to build it. The contractor has to be able to take our documents, walk onto an empty site and start working.”
Although all projects are challenging, Decker likes to say that a bad building is as hard to get designed and built as a great one; so why not try for extraordinary?
She is proud of the firm’s entire body of work, but three examples that stand out include the Jobie L. Martin Classroom Building on the Jackson campus of Hinds Community College; the Bennie G. Thompson Academic and Civil Rights Research Center at Tougaloo College; and the master plan and affordable housing in the Midtown neighborhood.
“The new building on the Hinds Community College campus is the first two-story building on the campus. It raises the stature of the campus but still feels at home there,” Decker said. “With the Tougaloo building, President Hogan asked us to embody the history and mission of Tougaloo College in the building design. It was a humbling challenge, but when I spend time in the building, it feels like it has always belonged to Tougaloo.
“As one of the few mid-sized southern cities still awaiting our full renaissance, it is exciting to be a part of urban renewal efforts that promote the inherent character of our neighborhoods. Midtown is a model for neighborhood-led, healthy growth and revival.”
Decker feels fortunate to live in Jackson with a quality of life that’s unmatched and an inspiring state cultural heritage. “The challenges are daunting, but people are tackling them with skill and hope,” she said.
“We hope we are a part of that. Our designs and master plans are comprehensive environmental proposals. They grow from the characteristics of their sites, the aspirations of our clients and a complex set of performance criteria. We strive to make buildings and neighborhoods that are durable in material and memory and contribute to the public good.”
The Deckers, along with their son and daughter, built a modern home in Fondren two years ago after living in a restored bungalow in Belhaven for 18 years. They like to spend their free time with the children, swimming, traveling or just hanging out in the back yard.
Anne Marie Decker still enjoys playing the piano for relaxation. She even imagines herself as a composer if she were not an architect. “The only other thing I dream I might be is a composer. I say ‘dream’ because I have very few of the required skills,” she said. “I can, however, imagine how composing music and designing buildings are similar endeavors.”