Eye On Design
couvillion design + build
The architect Louis Kahn always found expression through his words and his buildings, to help us understand physical environments, but also to find something within the mental ones as well.
His axioms concerning houses being homes and architecture reaching for truth are especially applicable for the built environments of the South. They also aid our own search within our soul and as we develop inner grit. Current architectural movements across the region continue apace and offer diverse opportunities for communities of varying sizes and the architects who work within them as they develop new frontiers. Brothers Neil and Joe Couvillion of Starkville, Mississippi, are like Kahn’s brick. Their aspirations have built two successful businesses that are geared toward this distinctly Southern tomorrow. A coffee shop called Nine-twentynine, centrally placed, percolates with activity, and their flagship firm, called Couvillion Design + Build, is congruent with how they “can make a lasting impression on the fabric of Starkville,” as Neil says. The company that the Couvillions jack-planed began in 2010 when Joe, a general contractor with over 20 years’ experience, formally joined in a partnership with his brother Neil. As the latter tells it, “there was never any question of, will this work,” because the two just fit. One handles design and the other construction, but they are mind-melded to a discourse that analyzes, plans, and manages at all strata. Self-described craftsmen at heart, they have built a reputation that includes a diversity of skills. Master plans, site specific consultations, large or small builds, and a milieu that encompass everything from beach resorts to civic buildings is their ken. They approach everything from the standpoint of timelessness. By definition that is precisely what craftsmanship entails in a postmodern age; handiwork from start to finish. And this is not just restricted to homes—it includes the landscape.
There are not any landscapes that are not cultural. All of them are imbued with meaning and provide constant reminders of their power and perspective. Yet, as Neil so deftly expresses, the architecture associated with them “are constantly misunderstood.” When most think about what landscape architects do, some might envision the laying of rectangular squares of sod, maybe some burnished faux rocks, a koi-filled water feature, or someone associated with an ill-conceived house flip. This is decidedly not landscape architecture. For Couvillion, their process goes much further and their services are broader in scope and context.
Integrating both the built environment and the natural one is a tricky business because it at times must balance life at a micro level or define a community at a macro one. Master planning a neighborhood necessitates deftness, while designing for a residence calls for a reflection of a host of factors; these include the weighing of personality, materials, and of course, budgetary constraints. Landform gives way to gradients, and like the falling of dominos, in turn determines whether aspects like vegetation remain. Elements like weather and the trajectory of drainage might lend themselves to the adage that form follows function. Balancing these types of factors makes it essential for the firm to have a strong grasp on the pendulum of wants and needs.
How to Speak Build
The Starkville Country Club had a challenge for them. They wanted to increase exposure and raise their membership. Neil and Joe were onboard and provided a master plan in 2014 that had phases built into it for future projects. A landscape process such as this allowed for the construction of both capital budgets and a series of benchmarks that the venerable institution could viably meet. Guided by professional landscape architects, the language of design became a translation. The first stage included a reconstructed pool area with diverse spaces that would house an independent cabana, which would include bathrooms and provide room for bar and food service. With an eye focused on constructing appealing spaces for members and their guests, the Couvillions extended a hand to the needs of the client by working within the site conditions and the specter of the all-important budget. Like the obstetrician answering queries and offering sound counsel, after a nine-month span, they birthed a landscape that met the needs of all involved and summarily the pool has received rave reviews. In the end, the needs of the clients were met, and a landscape was crafted that would be enjoyed by generations to come. As Neil sees it, “the integration of space, materials, and finishes are critical and must fit within the vernacular of where we build them.” With the winds of aspiration behind them, Couvillion Design + Build are flexibly honoring the southern landscape of Starkville brick by metaphorical brick; with, of course, some added grit.
Words by: J.N. Campbell