Originally founded as Barlow & Plunkett, Ltd in 1958, Barlow Eddy Jenkins, P.A. has been providing architecture services in Jackson, MS. and across the Southeast for more than 50 years. The employees of Barlow Eddy Jenkins are committed to a shared belief that the built environment should enrich human experience.
According to the firm’s website, it believes that personal involvement by the principals in the actual production of the work of the firm leads to better communication with its clients, higher quality buildings, fewer cost increases, and better value for every construction dollar spent. “Our clients represent a broad range of interests, from federal, state and local governments and public agencies to hospitals, schools, universities, investors, developers, and private businesses. We are especially proud that a high proportion of our clients have chosen to develop a continuing relationship with our firm,” the site states. BAMSouth Publisher Jack Criss sat down with company CEO Chuck Barlow recently to find out more about this outstanding Jackson business.
BAMSouth: Tell us about the history of the firm: its origins, purpose in formation, early years, etc.
BARLOW: The firm was started in 1958 by my father, Charles Barlow, and his partner, Connely Plunkett. Their first office was in the storage room of my grandfathers Barber Shop in the first block of East Capitol Street. They used the Barber Shop phone as their business telephone. When business began to increase, they needed more space and rented an office just off of South State Street. When they moved out, my grandfather told my father that he was well known in Jackson and all of his customers could find him. But Barlow & Plunkett was not well known and their clients only had that phone number to locate them, so my grandfather gave them the phone number of his Barber Shop. That original Barber Shop phone number (Fleetwood 28377) is still our office number today. In 1997, Scott Eddy, David Jenkins and I completed the buy-out of the founding partners and the name of the firm was changed to Barlow Eddy Jenkins, PA. Since then, we have added another partner, Brian Cabunac. 2016 is the firms 58th year in business.
BAMSouth: What do you consider your best and/or most major projects since being in business?
BARLOW: Having been in business for 58 years, there are quite a few of them. Milestone projects would certainly include Highland Village, Blue Cross, Blue Shield, Southern Farm Bureau and Allstate corporate headquarters. The 14-story Medical Office Building and Dominican Plaza buildings are two of our larger projects for St Dominics Hospital. The recently completed Mississippi Central Crime Lab is a fine building that supports state of the art forensic science in support of law enforcement.
A building of personal significance is the 509 East Capitol Street building which houses the 5th year studios of the MSU School of Architecture. Being an architect, to be chosen by architects to design a building for teaching architecture was an important personal milestone. When it was completed, the building received 2 design awards from the American Institute of Architects. But of our entire portfolio, the project I am personally most proud of is The Chapel at St Dominics.
BAMSouth: What current jobs are you most proud of?
BARLOW: Current projects that inspire us include the completion of construction bid documents for the new Department of Public Safety Headquarters that will be collocated on the same site with the Crime Lab and are designing a new Sanctuary and support spaces for the Chapel of the Cross in Madison.
BAMSouth: What is the firm’s ratio between private and public work?
BARLOW: It varies over time and from year to year. We strive to maintain a good balance between our public and private work portfolios.
BAMSouth: How many are on staff at the firm?
BARLOW: Twelve total; we have ten full – time and two contract employees. We are currently looking to hire two, possibly three new employees.
BAMSouth: Chuck, what is your biggest challenge today in the industry?
BARLOW: This is a big question that could span a broad range of issues. From a business and project delivery perspective I would answer that we are all undergoing transformation as rapidly changing technologies provide opportunities for more complex, coordinated and integrated procedures for information sharing, communication, production of building components and systems as well as methods and means of actually constructing buildings. The information and sharing of data has always existed, but the depth of sharing, the capacity of computer models and information systems to support coordination between designers and builders is much deeper and more complex. The rate of change is accelerating as the rate of emerging technologies also accelerates. As we embrace the benefits of the new technologies, we have to keep an appropriate perspective on them; what they can do and what they cannot do. Digital technology cannot make architecture or buildings. People do that.
BAMSouth: And how did the firm weather the 2008 recession?
BARLOW: Well, it was not an easy passage, but we have done very well considering the state of the economy.
BAMSouth: Your firm is a Jackson fixture: why stay in Jackson when so many other firms are leaving or have left?
BARLOW: There is no reason to leave. Jackson is a great city that is culturally rich and diverse, full of talented people and has a long, complex and unique history. Obviously our city is currently facing some challenges, but with time and leadership they will be overcome. Our firm stayed in Jackson because this where we want to be. As for the challenges Jackson is facing, I don’t particularly like running from problems. I prefer to face them and help be part of the solution(s) to those problems.
BAMSouth.com: What would you consider the core strengths of the firm? Areas of specialty and expertise that you believe your firm does best?
BARLOW: Like all Mississippi A/E firms, we are generalists and design schools, college and university buildings, office buildings, corporate headquarters and many other types of building. Our greatest strength is that we excel in technical building types for the healthcare and scientific communities.
BAMSouth: Toot your own horn now, Chuck: What makes your firm strong and successful? Especially after so many years in business?
BARLOW: The way we were doing business before the 2008 recession is the reason we came thru it so well. We stayed focused on our core areas of service and remained committed to effective business collaboration with our clients to provide them the best value for their construction dollars and give them state of the art buildings based on sound business judgment. That has been our basic approach of service to our clients for 58 years. We don’t pursue volume in our business; we pursue excellence in our work. Fundamentally, we are invested in our client’s success and earnestly strive to help our clients be better at what they do whether they are an organization, business or institution. We endeavor to help them be successful.
BAMSouth: Look into in your crystal ball: what is Jackson’s future economically and what steps, in your opinion, need to be taken or could be taken to improve that future? I pose this question to you as an established and well-respected business leader who has worked in the Capitol City for many years.
BARLOW: I’ll look into a crystal ball of practicality: Right now, our city administration needs to focus on the fundamentals. If representatives of a business or industry visited Jackson as a prospective place to relocate, before anyone speaks to them to offer tax incentives or share demographic data, to describe the benefits of Jackson they would have to drive to the meeting on streets and roads covered with potholes, with litter on the sides of the streets and under burned out streetlights. Any businessperson’s first impression would be.“This place is going out of business”. That’s how we present ourselves to the larger regional, national and global community. Jackson simply must address these very basic problems.
Looking into a crystal ball of hope, now: We need to recover our pride in being Jacksonians. As citizens, I believe we have to redouble our efforts and be committed to end division and strife in and between the various parts of our community. Our future and destiny as a city, our mutual prosperity, depends on our ability to work together, cooperate and understand ourselves as ONE community rather than a fragmented collection of neighborhoods in competition with each other. With a true, spirited sense of community, we can have a bright future; without it, we are already living our future today.
BAMSouth: What project by a competing firm do YOU admire the most or wish you could have done?
BARLOW: Interesting question. I’d say St Richards Catholic Church, designed by Tom Biggs.
BAMSouth: Is it harder now to find young, competent architects in Mississippi, easier or the same as always?
BARLOW: The market is recovering, so there are fewer applicants than in the past few years and finding young architects is becoming harder. But, unquestionably, the talent level is as high now as it has ever been. – BAM