Perhaps no Southern architect is better known than the late A. Hays Town, who designed more than 500 iconic homes in his state of Louisiana and across the South. We've named our award, which will be given annually to a Southern architect, to honor him. Our first winner is Atlanta's Norman Davenport Askins (normanaskins.com).
How He Got His Start
Norman began his architectural education on family outings to antebellum Alabama towns visiting friends and relations, most of whom lived in old houses. "I loved getting to know each house and became educated by osmosis," he recalls. When he rode his Schwinn Corvette bicycle around his own suburban-Birmingham neighborhood, he found himself wishing its ranch-style houses looked more like those Greek Revival and Italianate homes. By the time he was 11, Norman knew he wanted to become an architect and started sketching floor plans and facades for imaginary clients. "I thought how much better those 1950s houses would look if they were a bit more old-fashioned—my then-word for Classical," he says. By the time Norman entered Georgia Tech's College of Architecture in 1960, Classical architecture was out and modernism was in, but Norman remained true to his first love. "I suspect I was the first person to crack open the library's volumes on ancient and early-European architecture since the 1930s," he says. Norman furthered his studies at the University of Virginia and at Colonial Williamsburg before taking his own place in American architectural history.
What Makes Him Important
Moving from Williamsburg, Virginia, to Atlanta in the late 1970s, Norman forged a living link between the past and present. "The appetite for traditional architecture was still strong, but there was no new generation of architects schooled in it," he says. Picking up the torch from the retiring Colonial Revival architect Philip Trammell Shutze, Norman began designing houses in authentic period styles that accommodated the conveniences of modern living. At a time when many believed traditional architecture and modern living were incompatible, he proved just the opposite. Meeting new demands for home offices and open floor plans, he didn't sacrifice the historical authenticity. "If the kitchen is going to be open to the living room, as it so often is today, it has to look good," says Norman, who likes to conceal unattractive appliances in back pantry areas. Since starting his Atlanta-based firm in 1977, he's designed hundreds of homes in pitch-perfect expressions of Greek Revival, Georgian, Italianate, Federal, French, and English Country styles. Each of these homes demonstrates just how livable historically inspired Southern architecture can be.