How Duvall Decker brings innovative solutions to underserved communities in Mississippi

Emerging Voices

How Duvall Decker brings innovative solutions to underserved communities in Mississippi

The Mississippi Library Commission Headquarters in Jackson, Mississippi, Is an example of the restrained material palette that Duvall Decker often employs. (©Timothy Hursley)

The Architectural League’s Emerging Voices award and lecture series spotlight individuals and firms with distinct design “voices” that have the potential to influence the discipline of architecture, landscape architecture, and urban design. The jury, composed of Sunil Bald, Mario Gooden, Lisa Gray, Paul Lewis, Jing Liu, Thomas Phifer, Bradley Samuels, Billie Tsien, and Ian Volner, selected architects and designers who have significant bodies of realized work that creatively address larger issues in the built environment.

The Architect’s Newspaper featured the Emerging Voices firms in our February issue; stay tuned as we upload those articles to our website over the coming weeks. The firm featured below (Jackson, Mississippi–based Duvall Deckerwill deliver their lecture on March 9, 2017, at The Architecture League in New York City. Click here to learn more!

Jackson, Mississippi–based Duvall Decker Architects have a knack for finding design solutions for the complex politics of the underserved urban South. From housing to institutional work, the firm navigates an intricate web of public money, government subsidy, and city code. They have become so good at it that they find that they are teaching their clients, and sometimes city officials, how to get things built while serving the community. 

An early project, designing a small high school, found them consulting with the client after completion about how to best maintain the new building. When looking for an office space, instead of renting, the firm decided to buy a space. This led to a series of buying, fixing, and reselling their own office spaces, something they jokingly called “office flipping.” In other projects, the firm’s research strategy led them to form master plans, which led to more work. These early experiences shaped the way in which the office now operates.

The Midtown Affordable Housing project uses a distinct formal move to produce efficient interiors and dynamic exterior spaces. (©Mark Howell)

In more recent work, Duvall Decker has been tapped to design entire affordable housing neighborhoods. For a project for the Jackson Housing Authority, planning and community research led the office to some unorthodox formal moves. Hoping to achieve the maximum density, but limited to building duplexes, a twist and shift was applied to the typical typology. The resulting form produced more social interior spaces, and more dynamic exterior spaces, both usually lacking in the standard banal blocks of public housing.

“These projects are often lowest-bid public projects. We take the same dollars-per-square-foot and we make a building with that,” explained Ann Decker. “We strip the finishes and focus on improving the craft. When we poured some of the first architectural concrete in Mississippi in decades, we had to teach the contractor how to do it.”

The Bennie G. Thompson Academic & Civil Rights research Center, at Tougaloo College in Jackson, Mississippi, is filled with spaces where students can gather and work. (©Timothy Hursley)

Duvall Decker’s attention to the client and the end user is just as evident in its institutional work. Reflecting new ideas about education, and the social topics taught within the project, Bennie G. Thompson Academic & Civil Rights Research Center at Tougaloo College in Jackson, Mississippi, strives to embody egalitarian ideas through form. With no center and a diverse set of spaces, students can inhabit the building in more than one way.

When Ann and Roy Decker set out to start an office they did not know exactly what they were getting into. Coming from academia, they wanted to continue teaching, but they felt they could contribute more within the profession. The path from those early days to their now thriving practice was not typical one. Today they are not simply an architecture firm. Within the design practice, master planning and consulting play a major role; outside of design, the firm acts as developers and property managers. This journey has given them the chance to continue educating: their clients and themselves.