February 6, 2024
How Tall Architects Made a Place for Itself in Coastal Mississippi
Resonating with the Tall Architects’ Community
Tall Architects’ bet on Ocean Springs (population 18,000) was a good one. As the only firm practicing progressive architecture in the area, they have been surprised by the warm and curious reception they got, and how quickly they’ve been able to integrate into the artistic community. “Where we struggled— we were not prepared, and we should have been—is with a poor state and low budgets. But it’s forced us to be scrappy with materials, form, and construction technique,” Madison says. Off-the-shelf materials, used creatively, have also resonated with the community. They convey attainability, familiarity, and respect for the vernacular language of Ocean Springs.
The Talleys have since eagerly moved out of their Airstream (“three years and six days later,” Mark says) and in 2018 designed and built their current home, Tall House, where they live with their son. The house’s two elevated 10-by-24-foot metal-clad volumes, connected by decking, can be moved from its rural site, should they opt for a more urban experience. Tall House served as a laboratory for the firm, and other local and regional projects quickly followed and garnered acclaim.
Designing for Environmental Resilience
Even 18 years after Hurricane Katrina, every conversation that Tall Architects has with a potential client begins with an audit of what happened to the property during “the storm,” which made landfall 20 minutes from their office. The epic scars from Katrina still mark the landscape and dictate how the architects practice now and into the future. For example, the Rayburn House, currently under construction, is a 3,080-square-foot home for a local museum director and his family, raised 8 feet above the ground. The all-white house had to pass muster with the local historic preservation commission, and nods to a Southern Gothic sensibility with a gable roof. The clients also loved the house from Tim Burton’s movie Beetlejuice, so Mark and Madison conceived an irregular pattern of geometric windows that recall the film’s surreal Postmodernist set. White cement board panels evoke Mondrian and create a patchwork look from afar. “The majority of our projects are elevated,” Madison says. “That brings in an entirely different take on architecture. It’s an interesting challenge— you don’t want to just stick a building on stilts in the air.” Nor does the firm want to build cartoonish fortresses, adds Mark.
“By delivering this warmer variety of Modernism (or regionalism) you can do stuff that isn’t Corinthian columns, but still make things that are inviting and long-lasting,” Mark says.
In Purvis, Mississippi, a 70-mile drive northwest of Ocean Springs, the environmental challenge isn’t hurricanes—it’s tornadoes. The town’s “Katrina” moment was the 1908 Dixie Tornado Outbreak, which killed hundreds of people and leveled Purvis. For a new city hall that needed to celebrate the town’s rapid growth and vibrancy, Tall Architects chose a sleek rectangular form with a single-slope roof that flips up on two ends. A subtle protruding brick X pattern on the facade is a nod to a local school that was itself built with bricks reclaimed after the 1908 tornado. The mayor, who runs a sawmill, once drove up to a meeting with the Talleys on his tractor; an alderman owns a lumberyard. So the contractors were able to make their own structural wood members on-site when CLT wasn’t in the budget. “We’ve had some great and patient teachers and clients along the way who have been incredibly willing to experiment with us. We threw ourselves into this community, and that has really benefited us,” says Madison.
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