In 1953, the fourth annual conference of the Gulf States Region of American Institute of Architects was held in Biloxi, on Sept. 17-19. The theme of the conference was “Serving the People of the New South Through Architectural Progress” and there was a strong focus of regionalism. If you’re familiar with modernism, you know that the International Style was all the rage in the 1920s and 1930s, and by the 1950s we are seeing a shift to regional interpretations of Modern architecture. The panel of speakers assembled for the conference included two big names in 20th century American architecture: Richard Neutra, and Paul Rudolph. While Neutra was a seasoned architect in ’53, Rudolph was at the beginning of his career. Only 34 at the time, he had begun his own practice less than a year prior, but before the end of the decade he would be head of the Yale School of Architecture. We’ve discussed Rudolph’s one known Mississippi work here before on MissPres. You might remember the Fredella Village in Vicksburg was an early experiment in modular construction, that still sits nestled on its rolling site.
Neutra gave an address titled “The Challenge of Regionalism,” while Rudolph’s talk was on the “Potentiality of Regional Architecture.” Also as part of the conference, a tour of the Mississippi Coast was given on the morning of the 18th. Unfortunately I have not been able to find the itinerary of this tour. The Daily Herald published some thoughts from Rudolph’s address.
Says Architects Offered Unique Quality In South
The deep south, because of its relative warm climate and impressive architectural heritage, can contribute a unique quality to 20th Century architecture, Paul Rudolph told fellow architects today.
Rudolph spoke of regional architecture with special emphasis on war[m] climate building to members of the Gulf States Conference of the American Institute of Architect at the Buena Vista Hotel in Biloxi.
Many of modern architecture’s ideas are easily adaptable to the South, he pointed out, stressing the open planning, lightness of structure and free flowing of inner and outer space. He said that the south could have the most wonderful architecture in the country if the basic principles of 20th Century architecture are carried out.
To date regional architecture has been limited, but Rudolph predicts that it will come through form rather the use of materials.
Rudolph used several examples of architecture in this and other countries to illustrate his point that regional architecture has become a decided trend.
“Current building practices in the Gulf States area are based on design standards derived in the north for northern climates,” Dean Buford Pickens of the School of Architecture at the University of Washington, declared this morning.
He gave as a reason for this, the “dominant influence of publications and institutions of other sections, and to the lack of unity in objectives among Gulf States architects themselves.”
“As a result,” Dean Pickens charged, “the building industry in the south today overlooks completely the natural advantages of climate and resultant ways of living which were taken for granted in traditional Gulf States buildings of a hundred and more years ago.”
[illegible] architects of this region need to have a common understanding of the historical and cultural background which is fundamental to the meaning of regionalism. But the core of the problem is essentially a contemporary and continuous one which calls for more collaboration and emphasis on the search for the unifying elements within similar areas, and less upon exploring the exotic importations from the northern sections of the country,” declared the dean.
The Daily Herald, September 19, 1953
Categories: Architectural Research, Biloxi, Modernism
The Library of Congress has Paul Rudolph’s architectural archive; you could contact them to see if they have any information available on this conference and Rudolph’s talk. Neutra’s archive is mostly at UCLA with some at Avery Architectural Library and Syracuse University. However, it is the UCLA archive that has information about this conference. Looking at their collection guide, it is in Professional Papers, Presentations, Box 241, Folder 15: Lecture correspondence, A.I.A. Gulf States Region Seminar, Biloxi, Mississippi 1953: Scope and Content Note, Includes transcript of lecture.
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Thank you for sharing these resources and digging a little deeper. I’m a little surprised to learn that they have information on the 1953 Gulf States AIA Conference. Definitely will have to peruse these archives.
The Rudolph Reference Resource at UMass Dartmouth is a great resource as well. From there I first learned of Fredella Village, in Vickesburg. This site also has quotes from oral histories with Rudolph. My favorite anecdotes are Rudolph’s encounters with Frank Lloyd Wright.
Big name architects like Rudolph and Neutra were generally excellent about keeping their own papers and drawings and had plenty of acolytes to preserve their archives. Once I Googled “Richard Neutra Archive,” it only took a short time to find that UCLA has information on the 1953 Gulf States Conference. I am surprised that the Library of Congress does not have a published collection guide for Paul Rudolph’s archive, but Rudolph did not live long enough to be as admired as Neutra (if alive today, Rudolph would still be waiting). Rudolph may not have been as good as other architects at keeping track of his drawings, etc. I know of the architect who has the drawings for Rudolph’s Wallace House in Athens, Alabama.
Mississippi architects were not as lauded, nor seemingly valued their work as much. Photographs of C. H. Lindsley are rare, so an archive of his architectural records is out of the question. The drawings that do exist are only still extant since other architects “borrowed” them for renovations or additions to his buildings. Overstreet notably threw away all his correspondence and business records when he retired, with his drawings often being dispersed to whoever happened to take them (with or without his permission). The story is the same with most of Mississippi’s noted architects.
Wow, lots of information here. I’m a little tired tonight, but will save this for a good read when I’m rested. The Fredella Village construction reminds me of the much talked about construction of the Hilton Palacio del Rio in San Antonio.