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Architect Finds New Blueprint for His Life

Design: After taking a 'faith step,' Mississippi designer of skyscrapers and prisons works on 22 church projects in four years. Now his meetings with clients usually open and close with prayer.

September 28, 1996|From Associated Press

BRANDON, Miss. — For 17 years, Larry Sones made a name for himself designing skyscrapers, prisons, motels and libraries.

But now he's following a new calling--as a craftsman of churches. Sones has become the idea man behind elegant houses of worship around Mississippi.

Planning sessions with clients are now markedly different, according to the graduate of the Mississippi State University School of Architecture. "Every meeting I attend is usually opened and closed with prayer," he said.

After a little trepidation taking what he terms "a faith step for me," business could not be better.

Sones has worked on 22 church projects in the four years his firm has been open in downtown Brandon. The five-employee office will soon expand to six, and his best advertising is word of mouth, which generates plenty of inquiries in tightknit religious circles.


In Mississippi, known as the Bible Belt buckle, Sones has found clients ranging from tiny churches in rural communities to large congregations with multimillion-dollar plans.

"For a lot of projects I work on, it is literally a spiritual experience," he said. "I think the church is a very important part of the puzzle of solving a lot of the problems that we have. I don't think the federal government or the state or local communities can fix things without the church being a big part of that."

Millard Smith, administrator of First Baptist Church in Brookhaven, worked for four years with Sones on a $2.8-million renovation project. He said the result was a stained-glass beauty, something "fantastic, very worshipful."

Most of Sones' work is renovation projects, expansions or new churches for congregations that are moving. His clientele is mostly Baptist, intermingled with a few Methodists, Presbyterians and other denominations.

Sones said church leaders have special ideas about day care space, Bible teaching classrooms and recreational facilities. Churches in the South "feel more duty, more pressure to minister to their communities than they ever have before," he said. "A lot of it has to do with the change in social values, the breakup in family structure."


Sones, 54, is leaving a mark on Mississippi's church architecture, heralding a change away from modernism to promote "traditional forms and images" like steeples, pointed arch windows, cast stone and stained glass.

"I always tell church building committees if you give a 4-year-old child a pencil and tell them to draw a church, there will be certain things in almost every case the child will draw," he said. "There's a certain amount of security in seeing something that's burned in your mind as to what a church should look like."

People, he said, want "to cling to something that you feel is secure and stable that's not going to change with the next opinion poll."

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