Green Before Green Was Cool


Madison and Mark Talley with photos by Christy Ryan


Mississippi Heritage Trust


Newsletter, Regional Spotlight
Image details

If buildings today were designed following visionary Mississippi builder and designer Carroll Ishee’s principles, we would have more interesting communities that respected the natural environment instead of wreaking havoc on this limited resource. Ishee is said to have built over 150 buildings, most of which were houses, along the Mississippi Gulf Coast. He tackled tricky terrain and conquered challenging sites others deemed unbuildable. His love for nature is visible in his work which was designed using sustainable principles and crafted with natural materials long before “green” was the norm.

Five overarching themes that can be seen in Ishee’s work include:

Site Selection

Driving through the coastal town of Ocean Springs, you will often happen upon clusters of Ishee houses that peek out of the woods or nestle down into the boggy lowlands. These enclaves are home to artists, architects, and free spirits who relate living in an Ishee-designed house to communing with nature.

Ishee sought large, unwanted swaths of land where he could carve out irregular lots and would use natural features within the landscape to enhance his designs. He favored dense foliage with no yard to maintain and a cheap asking price.


The placement of the buildings in relation to the sun was a driving design force. Most of the buildings have long north and south walls and short east and west walls. Regionally, this is the proper solar orientation due to the harsh southern sun. Deep overhangs and minimal glass on the south combined with ample glass on the north allows ambient daylight to flood the houses. When the proper orientation wasn’t suitable in conjunction with the site, the glass walls in the buildings faced protective foliage.

Re-purposed Materials

Walk up to any Ishee house and one of the first things that sticks out will be the handle on the front door. Often constructed of a unique limb found in the surrounding woods, the entryway sets the tone for the rest of the structure and brings the idea of reuse to the forefront. The interiors of the homes are full of quirky detailing with tree trunks replacing columns, large slabs of wood used as steps, and doors salvaged from old schools.

He would frequently seek out buildings that were on the verge of demolition and remove windows, doors, and other salvageable items. He stored his haul in a large warehouse by the railroad tracks in Ocean Springs.

Low Maintenance Materials

The majority of surviving Ishee houses have had little to no exterior alterations largely due to the use of resilient materials. The exterior wall panels were often unpainted asbestos with raw cedar battens. The soffits and some of the ceilings were cedar shake which carried the theme from the outside in. The windows–large sheets of plate glass–were typically site built in order to accommodate unique shapes and sizes and cut down on cost. Interior walls were often comprised of inexpensive drywall with a textured coat of white plaster applied over the top creating a unique and long lasting finish. He used concrete as a low cost flooring option, and in his later buildings, used concrete to create thin floating walkways bridging marshy areas and small waterways.

Natural Light

Ishee favored few walls, opting only to enclose bathrooms and bedrooms, thus allowing natural light to play across the spaces. The large walls of glass allow dappled light to move through the houses, morphing the interiors throughout the day and reflecting the surrounding vegetation. Gathering spaces were situated around these open, lush views, while bedrooms were often kept private with high, triangular shaped windows that followed the rooflines.

Visit the Ocean Springs Museum of History at the Mary C. O’Keefe Cultural Center to explore Carroll Ishee’s architectural artistry. The Ishee exhibit is sponsored by the Mississippi Arts Commission, Mississippi Gulf Coast National Heritage Area, Mississippi Department of Marine Resources and the Office of the Mississippi Secretary of State. Visit for more information.

Published in the Spring 2020 issue of Elevation, the Journal of the Mississippi Heritage Trust.

About the Contributors

Madison Talley is an architect and founding partner of Tall Architects. As an outspoken proponent of design excellence and community involvement, her leadership has created an unwavering firm-wide design commitment to humanistic design. Madison is heavily involved as a creative director in every project the firm embarks upon. Her never-ending artistic curiosity combined with her love of material experimentation instills every project with an undeniable and unrepeatable zest.

Mark Talley is an architect and founding partner of Tall Architects. His interests lie with crafting the big ideas, the bold moves, and the subtle detailing that encapsulates the essence of a well-designed idea, space, or building. Mark is strategically involved with every project the firm designs. As a consummate collaborator and thoughtful critic, Mark’s ethos centers on never settling for the first idea and pushing the boundaries to new and uncharted territories.

Christy Ryan is a self-taught architecture photographer based out of Ocean Springs, Mississippi.  She shoots real estate photography along the Mississippi Gulf Coast and has owned her own photography business, Christy Ryan Photos, since 2017.  She moved to the Mississippi Gulf Coast from Brookhaven, Mississippi in 2005 and left an 18-year career in banking to pursue her passion for photography. 

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