Mississippi Architect, June 1963

Today and tomorrow are the fourth in the Mississippi Architect series, an on-going effort to reprint (with permission of course) the monthly journal of the Mississippi AIA, published originally from March 1963 through March 1965.

In today’s edition, we can almost hear editor Bob Henry thinking “Be careful what you wish for” as he responds to a very forceful woman with strong opinions about how band halls should be designed. In response, Henry did what I would do, he turned the matter over to someone else to answer, in this case Jackson architect Harry Haas. Haas graduated from Tulane’s School of Architecture, served in the Army Corps of Engineers during World War II, and post-war, established a long partnership with Robert C. Jones, Jones & Haas. In addition to several important Modernist schools in Jackson and other cities in the state, Jones & Haas were responsible for several structures at the Mississippi State Fairgrounds, including the colorful original version of the Coliseum (1961-62).

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“Blowing A Horn Is Hot Work”

Mississippi Architect has suggested previously that readers make comments or ask questions on any subject relating to architecture. We have had an interesting letter regarding band rooms worthy of a detailed answer. Mrs. L. A. Ogletree, Route 2, Box 470, Crystal Springs, Miss., has written:

At a club meeting recently I heard a statement that astonished me: that architects don’t know how to build in effective sound conditioning. The worst part is, it is more or less true. I have had two band members for the past six years, followed the band on trips to various schools and colleges, and have suffered through the horrible echoing and clatter of sound in numerous practice rooms and auditoriums.

I have viewed the “fine new band room” with “plenty of big windows” (the worst acoustic defect possible–letting in outside noises, if open; vibrating if closed, unless hung with heavy velvet draperies).

Band practice rooms should be close to stage size, so the pupils can be arranged approximately as they will be on stage. A strange instrument playing next to a nervous pupil can throw him completely off-key.

They need completely adequate artificial lighting. It’s hard enough to read the small notes necessary for attaching to instruments without straining to see by the sunshine and shadows of daylight. And lots of band work is carried out at night.

They need noiseless air conditioning. Band programs start two to three weeks before the regular school session, and in the deep South the heat is dibilitating [sic]. Blowing a horn is hot work. Try it. (No heat pumps, please! They are N.G.)

They don’t need fancy porticos. They need a shelter that students and instruments can get into or under until the band instructor arrives with the key to the band room. They need wide doors so that students can enter and egress two or three abreast, carrying large horns and drums. No center posts–they cause traffic jams.

Restrooms were a great problem wherever we went. Schools were closed and no band rooms provided facilities. Some few schools had restrooms under the stadium–too few!

Adequate instrument storage, uniform and practice rooms are necessities.

Of course an architect wants his brain child to be pretty. But in the case of band rooms, it’s pretty is as pretty does. Spend as much as possible on necessities and let simply dignity of exterior hold the cost down.

I am not an architect–I’m just a taxpayer and mother. My band student will graduate in June. The other is at State and chemistry majors have no time for band. It is for the good of future generations I’m praying. I hope you do not consider me unduly presumptuous.

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To answer Mrs. Ogletree’s questions, Mississippi Architect called on Harry Haas, a Jackson architect. Mr. Haas was a member of his high school and college bands and is presently director of a church choir and a male chorus. His reply follows:

First let me thank you for taking the time and trouble to set on paper what has obviously been a “sore subject” with you; your sincerity and concern are evident.

The faults with you enumerate can be attributed, with few exceptions, to the lack of funds which would be required to do the better job. In the case of most secondary schools the only funds available to the school district are allocations by the State Educational Finance Commission, and these are computed by a formula based on average daily attendance, with a maximum of $7.50 per square foot. Consequently Mississippi is as usual way below most other states in amounts spent for school construction per square foot, per pupil, per classroom, and per most other criteria. The architect receives compensation for his services as a fee based on percentage of construction cost. Thus, in Mississippi he works harder and longer, to design smaller and less costly buildings, for which he will receive less pay. On typical school work he cannot afford the added expense of retaining an acoustical consultant (whose specialized knowledge is required to assure success), nor will the School Board ordinarily agree to pay for these extra services.

In planning each school the architect must conform to the wishes of the school staff and also comply with the requirements of the various departments of the State Department of Education. Specialized functions such as lunchroom, library, science, homemaking, shop (and band and choral music) must be kept in balance and given equivalent emphasis. It is natural that the person concerned with any one of these functions should consider that one to be the most important.

Now to answer you more specifically, as to

Acoustics too poor–practically impossible to achieve any relief on our budgets; to get enough absorption units in a typical band practice room would be prohibitively costly.

Windows too big–needed for ventilation and light; outside noises usually less distracting than in typical recitation classrooms; will not vibrate if properly installed.

Rooms too small–proportionate to other departments; large as budget permits.

Lighting too dim–30 foot candles usually provided in new buildings in practice rooms; performances range from full afternoon sunlight, to alternating sun and shadow in parages, to night-time events.

Air conditioning required–wish it were economically feasible.

Heat pumps N.G.–they’re improving them.

Doors not sheltered–this we can and should do, where funds permit.

Doors too narrow–this we can and should do, where funds permit. (“panic” hardware for one double doors costs $75.00 more than for two single doors with post between)

Toilet rooms inaccessible–this we can and should do, and it normally won’t cost any more to do so.

Accessory rooms necessary–usually provided, to the extent that funds permit.

Fancy exteriors unnecessary–we’re with you 100%

Presumptuousness–not at all

What can be done? All of your suggestions deserve to be brought to the attention of every Mississippi architect. In particular, your recommendations as to sheltered areas at band room exterior doors, provision for wider doors, and location of toilet rooms near band rooms–these the State Department of Education can keep in mind to check specifically when plans of proposed buildings are reviewed. In general, however, the overall problems of increasing space, and up-grading the quality of our school facilities must be the concern of all Mississippians.

This post is part of an ongoing series of reprints of the Mississippi Architect magazine. To read more posts, see the tables of contents and read each month’s magazine in its original format, click the MSArcht tab above.



Categories: Architectural Research, Schools

18 replies

  1. This series is fascinating! I would never have thought about what great constraints these architects must have had designing during this period. It is easier to criticize than to create.

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  2. In light of the recent problems at the Hancock County Courthouse (Malvaney can supply the link) architects have not learned much in the last 50 years.

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    • Architects are not sound engineers and sound engineers are not cheap. Is the client going to pay for the possible extra expense? Architects design buildings, though they usually do have a lot of knowledge about things like acoustics, but sometimes the cheapest way to build is not the best for various reasons (like acoustics) or other desires conflict. I remember my father agonizing over such things 30 years ago.

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      • I guess I just restated a lot of what Haas said. I think it’s all too easy to blame the architect when so many factors could be the problem (though architects are human; don’t tell them!).

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      • The architectural profession threw out all its knowledge about what designs work and what designs don’t work during the Twentieth Century. At one time, sound engineers were not necessary because architects knew what shape and height an auditorium could be while still amplifying sound effectively. Remember, there were no microphones, so acoustics mattered. I have been in an antebellum university auditorium where the people on stage did not require microphones yet people in the back could hear what was being said clearly.

        Theodore is right, architects have not learned much in the past 50 years except how to ignore and reject generations worth of knowledge about proper architecture and design.

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        • I imagine that the design of the auditorium was critical (having worked in some of those old auditoriums back in my younger days, I know they were effective) but also when I was in theater back then, we were taught how to project to the back of the auditorium. It was perhaps a joint accomplishment: good design and good performers. I’ve been to some performances in some venues where even with amplification, you could not understand–like Ford Center at OleMiss.

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          • I agree, not every old auditorium is great acoustically. Lee Hall’s auditorium at MSU for instance is not great when sitting in the balconies. I would still say that a large majority of old auditoriums are very good acoustically. The performers have something to do with it, but my example was not about performers, merely regular people talking on the stage. I will add that it is not an enormous auditorium capable of seating thousands, more like in the low hundreds. It is antebellum afterall, there were only a few thousand living in the area at that time.

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        • I think modern materials also have something to do with it all–much harder without any give than the old plasterwork. Although those of us who have been to programs in the Old Capitol’s House of Representatives chamber know that plaster isn’t the magic bullet for acoustics either–the sound there is so bad you can barely speak one-on-one without a microphone, and the louder you speak the worse it seems to get. This in a room with carpeted floors, draperies, etc.

          I’m really shocked to hear that the Ford Center has bad acoustics–how much did that project cost? And they couldn’t hire an acoustics guy? Weird.

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          • I agree about the modern materials. One works with what is available and within budget (unless one’s name is Lloyd Wright).
            It’s very easy to throw stones …

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          • Speaking as one who throws lots of stones, I would like to point out that it’s not as easy as it looks :-)

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            • Your stones are usually constructive, E.L., and do not villify an entire profession.

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            • “Usually”???

              *throws stones at Carunzel*

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            • My apologies on the stone-throwing, but when I see something modern and awful (words that are almost synonymous) I cannot help but pick up as many stones as possible and throw them through those large-paned, mirrored glass windows that cannot open. I’ve got good aim, but brutalist buildings give me problems, being nothing except grey concrete, which is not very susceptable to stones.

              *Throws stones at Simrall Hall. Stones merely bounce off the concrete with no damage only to the stones.*

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            • Perhaps we can all agree that we can, as a group activity, throw stones at Dryvit-clad buildings. :-)

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            • Ouch, E.L.! You just wait ’til it snows!

              I totally agree about brutalism and Dryvit, but, come on, there’s way more to 20th century architecture than that; you’ve left out the entire first half! I hate brutalism and postmodernism as much as anyone, but what about International style and mid-century kitsch, art deco, moderne, &ct.? (I’m not sure I want to hear the answer to this …)

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            • I love Art Deco. In my opinion, it is the last great architectural style and the last to show any regional influence in decoration and form. If Edward Durell Stone had not had a change of heart later in his career, Art Deco would have been the last architectural style to show any decoration.

              International Style and Art Moderne are tricky. Both styles are old now, which means they are historic. Both styles can look good and in many cases do look good. However, the principles behind the International Style are the foundations of everything that has gone wrong with architecture in the Twentieth Century.

              The Mid-Century Modern of Morris Lapidus and others looks cool, not good, cool. Cool is not something entirely conveyed by the architecture itself; it is conveyed by how we interact with the architecture, how we set the architectural stage for our lives. Perhaps the Las Vegas Strip would not look as glamourous and cool if the Rat Pack had never made Oceans Eleven. If instead we saw Mafiosos killing enemies behind the Flamingo, would Mid-Century Modern look as cool? That is probably a poor example that does not work.

              What I will say is that as these modern buildings get older and more memories are created in them, the more meaning they acquire, the more these Modern blights will be preserved. In actuality, modern buildings have to be examined on a case-by-case basis with me. Some I like; some I dislike. Yet, this is in contrast to earlier styles. I have never seen a High Victorian Gothic structure that I even mildly disliked.

              I will give one reason to preserve Mid-Century Modernist buildings: they are far better than what is being built today.

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  3. Whooo! We got ourselves a rumble, y’all! I’m almost tempted to try to defend the architects, but W’s moral outrage is enough for me to leave that to the architects themselves. :-)

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