by ERROL LABORDE
You should not be looking around too much when driving on an expressway, but maybe when the traffic has you poking along it is OK to gaze a bit. Our cover story this month is the latest in our annual review of the best new local architecture. One of the featured places is the new First Baptist Church. Chances are you have not seen the church itself, but the odds are excellent that you have seen its steeple, rising from the treetop greens of a Lakeview neighborhood as seen from the Pontchartrain Expressway.
There have been several changes in the landscape along that stretch of Interstate 10 connecting Metairie to Downtown. Well, because design is the theme, that got me thinking about a new category – architecture along the expressway. Here, then, are my picks in ascending order, from worst to first.
4. The new pumping station. Any way you look at it, this new high-rise on the west side of the expressway is ugly. Built to drain the underpass of high water, the station has the visual qualities of a rhinoceros, big and bulky with various projectiles sticking out. Visitors heading into the city are greeted with this collection of pipes, shafts and gears. We’ll cut it some slack, though, because of the importance of its mission. Flooding in the underpass can be deadly. The pumping station gets some points for function if not for style.
3. The new sound barrier. This is taking some getting used to. Barriers were built at spots along the interstate to mute the traffic noise for the neighborhoods on the other side of the wall. I liked seeing the neighborhoods. Also, people who don’t want to live with traffic noise shouldn’t move next to an expressway. There was an effort to be artsy with the walls – they have design elements – but the total effect is claustrophobic, as though the expressway is closing in.
2. First Baptist steeple. We’re talking about what’s seen from the expressway, so the church doesn’t count, but the steeple surely does. Pointing brashly toward the sky, this tower adds civility and grace to a visually challenged landscape.
1. Metairie Cemetery. This is not new, but its charm is in its quaintness. The various stone soldiers and angels overlook a site that, before it was an expressway, was a canal. The expressway’s Metairie Road exit wraps around the base of the cemetery near the burial spot of Storyville madame Josie Arlington. For one fleeting segment, the expressway travels through the past.
Architecture, good and bad, is something to behold, even at 65 mph. In some cases, a quick look is long enough.