Longwood’s beauty lies in what’s not there

Published 11:03 pm Thursday, September 6, 2007

Let me tell you a secret about architects.

When it comes to buildings, we like to see them unfinished and under construction.

Well, most of us do anyway.

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Sure there is something relieving about walking through a brand new building with the owner and handing over the keys. The smell of new carpet, the look of freshly painted walls and dust free light fixtures can put a smile on your face.

But it’s usually the wall that’s not straight, the grout job that’s not particularly good and the door knob that sticks that makes most architects shake their heads when they make that final walk-through in a new building.

Many times I have marveled at the work of my fellow architects only to have them to point out the “if onlys” in the building.

You know the ones — if only the owner had spent a little more money, if only the contractor had done this, or worse yet, if only I had thought to do this.

But a building under construction? Well, it is filled with so much possibility. Little is finished and much is open to the imagination.

Architects love looking at the bones of a building.

They like to stand among bare stud walls, walk underneath steel trusses and look at bare concrete floors and dream.

Pregnant with endless possibilities, unfinished buildings offer the imagination a chance to daydream and create something fantastical and perfect.

This may not be just a trait of architects.

How many times have future homeowners walked through a house under construction pointing out where the new furniture will go and what the new wallpaper will look like?

Buildings under construction are like unfinished symphonies, in a way.

That is why it was not surprising to me Wednesday to see the antebellum house Longwood top the list of top architectural sites in the state of Mississippi.

From July 4 through Labor Day, visitors to the Mississippi Chapter of the American Institute of architect’s Web site, cast votes for their favorite buildings and architectural sites in the state.

Twenty thousand votes were cast for 32 nominated buildings.

Many, if not most, of those votes were cast from residents living outside of Natchez.

Two buildings in Natchez, Longwood and Dunleith, ended up in the Top 12 and will be featured in an upcoming calendar.

But it was Longwood that topped the list with 1,809 votes.

Surely, Dr. Haller Nutt, who built the house for his wife Julia, died in 1846 thinking that his dreams for the house would never be realized.

He probably never thought that his Natchez house would be considered the most beautiful building in Mississippi.

In fact, Nutt was probably disappointed that the house was never completed after the Civil War

Situated among a southern gothic landscape of Spanish moss and live oaks, there is little doubt to most tourists about the beauty of the building.

Yet I think it is what’s inside — or maybe what’s not inside — that probably captured the imagination and the votes for the Natchez landmark.

Standing on the main floor one only has to watch the faces of tourists getting that first glimpse of the unfinished portion of the building to see how something so raw and incomplete can create a sense of awe and wonder.

To me, the space that spirals upward into a light filled tower, reminds me of some of the light filled baroque cathedrals I have visited in Italy.

I can only imagine what visions fill the heads of other visitors when they imagine what this building frozen in time could have been.

Maybe it’s not only architects who like unfinished buildings.

Maybe Longwood’s enduring popularity demonstrates that we all like to dream.

Ben Hillyer is the web editor at The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3540 or ben.hillyer@natchezdemocrat.com.