Review: Mississippi Celebrates Architecture

Earlier this week, I wandered over to the Mississippi Arts Pavilion in downtown Jackson with some friends (yes, I have a few) to check out the Mississippi Celebrates Architecture exhibit. The exhibit gathers several different collections into five rooms in the pavilion: first, the American Institute of Architects’ America’s Favorite Architecture travelling exhibit, featuring large photos and brief descriptions of 150 works of architecture (not all are buildings) around the country that were apparently voted on by lots of other people besides me to celebrate the AIA’s 150th anniversary in 2007. Second, an “Art by Architects” feature displayed along the walls in the same rooms as the AIA exhibit. Third, the Mississippi Chapter of the AIA sponsored its own vote for Mississippi’s Favorite Buildings and the results, along with award-winning projects by MS AIA members over the last few decades are on display. I can tell you all this information because of my own research, carefully pieced together, as you remember, for you, Fans, but otherwise, there was no real guide within the exhibit itself to explain the various pieces to the collection. However, I enjoyed my walk-through very much, and we had running conversations/discussions about the 150 nationally recognized works of architecture, which was the whole point I believe.

I haven’t been a Blogger long enough to have stocked up on those little narrow notebooks that real journalists find so handy for writing down incorrect quotes while nodding vigorously and darting their eyes at you over their glasses. So, instead of a coherent and thoughtful summary, encapsulating the deeper meanings found in the exhibit, I only have these random thoughts:

America’s Favorite Architecture

Because there are 150 buildings to display, this exhibit works its way through 4 of the 5 rooms in the gallery. The photography was beautiful and the descriptions generally good (although the text for the [now lost] Yankee Stadium inexplicably states that the 1923 stadium was demolished in 1973, while still ascribing a date of 1923 to the photograph of Yankee Stadium). Also, I am enough of a linear thinker to be bothered by that the fact that the list was not exhibited in numerical order–why give them numbers if you’re not going to exhibit them in that order?

By the way, the AIA website has the list and you can sort it by date, ranking, architect, and name of building. It’s a well-designed website, which is nice since it’s about design.

No Mississippi buildings are included in the 150, which is not surprising. New York City, Washington DC, and Chicago seemed to get the lion-share of the listings, with Miami, Los Angeles, and a few other cities like Atlanta and San Francisco getting a couple each. However, Theodore C. Link’s Union Station in St. Louis is ranked #40, and we Mississippians can claim Link as our own since he designed our New Capitol in 1903 and went on to design several buildings at a number of state institutions, including Mississippi State and the Sanitorium (now Boswell Center, which is about to demolish one of his best buildings on their campus).

I was happy to see that Wrigley Field, home of my grandmother’s beloved Cubs ranked the highest of baseball stadia at #31. Yankee Stadium was #84–hah! Also, the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Atlanta (#103) is seriously worth the trip to see–my jaw dropped when I walked in that place.

A few entries made me think the voting had been rigged in some fashion–seriously, not one but two Apple Stores made the top 150 buildings in the whole country? The Astrodome? I admit I’ve never been there, but . . . Meanwhile, Louis Kahn’s Kimball Art Museum didn’t make the cut, even though, I would humbly submit, it should have been high on the list. The Sears Tower is #42, but the John Hancock Building isn’t anywhere to be seen. I’ve seen the Sears Tower and been up in it, and it’s no John Hancock Building, let me tell ya.

I found it interesting, although I’m not sure why, that 5 of the top 14 entries were memorials, with Jefferson’s memorial topping that particular group. The Washington Monument came in at #12–this would be the large real stone monument in Washington DC, not the squat little replica hiding a microwave tower in Madison, MS.

Overall, I found that I have actually seen 7 of the top 10 entries, 20 of the top 50, and 30 of the whole 150. I’ve got some work to do!

Art by Architects

My very favorite piece under this theme was Jim West’s beautiful neo-Craftsman jewelry case. I have nowhere near enough jewelry to put into it, but I’m sure I could find some use for it. It’s really wonderful and seemed the most tangible example of the art of building in the exhibit. Also loved seeing some renderings by James Canizaro, one of my favorites from the 1930s-1970s period. I assume these were donated by his successor firm Canizaro Cawthon Davis.

Mississippi’s Favorite Buildings

I don’t mean to be a didact or nit-picker, but the banner showing the list of the Mississippi Chapter’s presidents from good ol’ N.W Overstreet in 1928 on down to the present should have been proof-read before it got sent to the printer. Off-hand, I saw the following typos in the names themselves: Emmitt Malvaney (should be Emmett), Jay T. Little (should be Liddle) and Johyn Staats (should be John–seriously, how can you miss that?). Additionally, on the same banner, the second column is all askew, or akimbo if you will. It’s a drunken column stumbling around on the banner, which is hard to watch.

St. Richard's Catholic Church, sanctuary. Do the sides appear to be billowing out like a tent to you?

St. Richard's Catholic Church, sanctuary. Are those walls billowing out?

Otherwise, nice photography from the contest held by the MS AIA (which again I somehow missed) and good write-ups for each. We did chuckle over the description for St. Richard’s, which asserted that the walls in the sanctuary appear to be billowing out like the sides of a tent. Umm . . . not so much, and if so, I would be disturbed about walls that billowed out. Do they teach this kind of writing in architecture school? Because it seems to be common to the profession.


Aside from these little criticisms, I applaud the MS AIA for getting this exhibit together. We had a good time and it got us talking about architecture. I hope you’ll get on down there before the exhibit closes April 11.

Categories: Historic Preservation, Jackson, Museums, Preservation People/Events

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