From MSU School of Architecture
Belinda Stewart didn’t know much about the field of architecture growing up.
“I didn’t even know how to spell it,” she laughed.
That all changed, however, when the then-associate dean of the School of Architecture at Mississippi Sate University, James F. Barker, paid a visit to Stewart’s high school in Eupora to explain what architecture was.
“It blew me away,” she said, explaining that she had always enjoyed traipsing around after her grandfather, a carpenter, and loved to hear about how areas – especially buildings – had changed over time.
So, Stewart decided to give architecture a try and enrolled at Mississippi State.
It was there that she discovered her true passion after an assignment she received from Dr. Michael Fazio, her professor of architecture history.
“He assigned a report to us to discover and research something you are excited about to do with historic architecture,” she said, “something you want to be ‘an expert in.’”
Stewart chose to define the early historic architecture and how buildings evolved in her home of Webster County.
“I think that’s what really fired me up with these small towns,” she said, explaining that she discovered many of the buildings in Webster County were pre-Civil War. “It’s amazing that those structures are still there. It was exciting to learn about them.”
Encouraged by her interest in historical architecture of small towns, Stewart did her fifth-year thesis project on the study of vernacular architecture – specifically looking at why buildings evolved the way they did and the impact this knowledge could have on current design.
“I think that was an incredible base for an architect – knowing why things evolved in this area,” she said. “It’s just a great base to have.”
In fact, Stewart, the founder of Belinda Stewart Architects, PA, in Eupora, said she would like to encourage more of that type of study at the School of Architecture and has established the Belinda Stewart Architects Internship to help.
“The School of Architecture is set in Mississippi – in the middle of incredible richness of design and architecture – a lot of which is in our small towns,” Stewart said. “Having the opportunity to know those structures and know why they evolved the way they did and why they were designed that way can make them a stronger architect. Whether they go on to practice that type of architecture or not, I think more and more people need to have the knowledge of what’s around them.”
Stewart’s gift will support the competitive hiring of a student to join the staff of the Carl Small Town Center. The internship will afford an outstanding architecture student the opportunity to engage in design research and outreach efforts on behalf of small towns throughout the state, while honing their own design skills and gaining professional experience.
“There is so much need for small communities in the state,” said Stewart. “The economic base is not there any more for so many of them, and the vision has kind of been lost because the town’s base has been lost. Our goal is to help towns relook at themselves and, more importantly, to learn to appreciate what they have … what makes them unique and what makes them special.
Stewart and her team of 14 employees have the goal of helping small towns figure out how they can have a viable future.
“Our philosophy is there’s always a way, and it’s just about helping them find that way,” she said. “Those are the kind of tools I think would be incredibly powerful for an intern … to go into communities and learn how to help them find that way.”