With several posts on the topic it may not be a surprise that I am a fan of satellite and aerial photography. I’ve even had some opportunities to do some aerial photography of my own.
This view from the air stuck me oddly. I thought surely I would easily recognize Starkville from the air by the mammoth Davis-Wade Stadium; after all cities in the region are not littered with large SEC football stadiums. This was not the case. Nor was the above view of Starkville immediately recognizable to me from the layout of streets, but rather from the disciform of the Humphrey Coliseum. This impression seemed strange to me because when you view the Humphrey Coliseum in elevation one does get some sense of the oval shape of the building but not enough that I thought I would be able to recognize a larger metropolitan area based only on the structure’s footprint, (This really gives a new meaning to setting and context!) especially considering it’s not the largest structure or geographic feature in the image.
In 1975 Mississippi State finished construction on the Humphrey Coliseum. It was designed by Brewer, Godbold & Associates with assistance from the firms of Wakeman & Martin and Benham & Perkins. State is not alone, many other schools have similar buildings of a similar age. This made me think “Hey 1960′s and 1970′s what’s up with all the round buildings, specifically, the round auditoriums & coliseums?”
The 60′s and 70′s seemed to be the heyday of the round building, not only in Mississippi but all across the country and all around the world. Some of Mississippi’s institutes of higher learning saw the round building as a great venue for athletic coliseums. This round building construction boom created some of the largest round buildings in the state. I thought that my 1963 edition of Herman J. Penn’s Encyclopedic Guide to Planning & Establishing and Auditorium, Arena, Coliseum or Multi-Purpose Building would surely- with a long name like that- provide some insight to my questions! It’s a massive tome of 600+ pages that covers all aspects of event location management, compiled over the years by Mr. Penn in his various positions in auditorium management and planning. Unfortunately Mr. Penn gives barely a mention to circular venues. The singular mention is an off handed remark that they are good only for hosting horse shows, auto racing, or bullfights. While he embraces modern planning he did not embrace modern design. Though he disparages WPA built spaces and other 1930s structures as archaic, he seems slow on the uptake of the round coliseum design upswing of the late 1950s. When this book was published Mr. Penn was looking back on a career. This book reflected the past and thankfully for us, Mississippi architects were looking forward towards the next two decades, forging ahead into the seemingly bright future.
Delta State led the way with the Walter Sillers Coliseum 1961 designed by the firm Mattingly & Biggers, and shortly followed up with the Young-Mauldin Cafeteria in 1963-1965 designed by a joint venture of William R. Allen and William W. Easley.
Next to follow in 1964-1965 was University of South Mississippi with the Bernard Reed Green Coliseum by the firm of Landry & Matthes.
Ole Miss was not to be left out and built the C.M. “Tad” Smith Coliseum in 1965. It was designed as a joint venture of Brewer, Skewes, & Godbold and Pritchard & Nickles.
Mississippi Delta Community College in Moorhead had three great round buildings. While the 1968 James McAdams designed Horton Science Building and the 1975 J.T. Hall Coliseum still stand, the 1968 Brewer, Skewes, & Godbold designed Vandiver Student Union was cruelly demolished in 2011. Its footprint is still visible in satellite images, and even the campus map on the schools website has an abrupt blank spot. Looking at the satellite image you might think that Horton and Vandiver buildings were Identical, being round and all. Click on the links and see the MDAH HRI photos for buildings that might surprise you.
And bringing up the rear, but may be my favorite- Mississippi College’s 1977 joint venture design teams of Bigger, Biggers & Associates and Ray James & Associates created the Buckminster Fuller domed A.E. Wood Coliseum.
Millsaps College has the tiniest round building of all the universities in the state with the James Observatory built in 1902.
Of course round buildings are not the only kind of buildings that are interesting to look at from above.
Do you know of a building that look great from above? If so let us know!