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Best of Design

Our Annual Survey of the Most Innovative New Architecture

Photographed by Jeffery Johnston

This year’s best new architecture is residential. These buildings have all arisen after Hurricane Katrina, and each one responds to the condition in a different way. It isn’t surprising that residences are currently the most common kind of construction, because they’re the fastest building type to design and build. However, there are several new community and institutional projects in design, and there are also some larger-scale projects now under construction. These include the major expansion of the World War II Museum, Poydras Street’s first residential tower, the state transportation center on West End Avenue and the Jefferson Performing Arts Center. All of these buildings are contemporary in design, and we look forward to their appearance on the skyline soon.

Also related to this year’s residential theme are the colorful multifamily housing buildings going up around Tulane Avenue, the Falstaff and Krause residential conversions and the “Make It Right” housing development in the Lower 9th Ward. This well-publicized project is a somewhat eclectic mix of local and national architects’ designs with the goal of building 150 new houses. Design and construction are continuing apace, and we look forward to reviewing the project as more of it is completed. So although still relatively rare, the city’s new architecture is indicative of a strong, positive spirit.

Crutcher Residence

PROJECT TYPE This is a contemporary single-family house Uptown on Camp Street. It was designed for Robin and Bruce Crutcher on a small lot that had previously held the back building for a bakery on Valence Street. The new building virtually fills the site, and a small patio with a linear pool and grotto is skillfully incorporated into the narrow space behind the structure.

BEST ARCHITECTURAL FEATURE This house has a well-articulated exterior, with finely detailed cementitious board panels.
It even incorporates a small, delightful entry court behind the front gate. However, the heart of the project is inside: a two-story great room that organizes the plan and provides focus and orientation, both within and without. Surprisingly, the project makes use of the Japanese concept of “borrowed landscape.” This means that certain significant nearby elements are framed as captured views through the design. Here the architects and the owners adjusted window position, size and location to provide striking visual connections to the three nearby church towers.

The interior of the house is a sensual delight. There is art everywhere, even in a built-in niche at the stair landing! The artworks are well-lit, thanks to the fine attention to daylight by the project designers. The light is produced by a multiplicity of windows, a polycarbonate translucent wall and large mirrors that provide reflection. The materials have been chosen with great attention to their color, reflectivity and tactile character. At least half a dozen tiles chosen by Robin in collaboration with architect Wayne Troyer are used – red, blue, green and even iridescent purple – each providing identity and visual highlights to a specific area.
In contrast with the simple cubic double height volume of the great room, the bedrooms are more intimately scaled, and each has a sloping ceiling plane. The final unexpected treat is a roof deck accessed by a 20th-century steel spiral stair.
While the house already has a great feeling of hominess, it has reached completion only recently. Construction was delayed by Hurricane Katrina; the main floor slab was scheduled to be cast August 29, 2005.

Global Green House

PROJECT TYPE This high-profile building is part of a larger project for the design of an entire block along the levee in the Lower 9th Ward neighborhood of Holy Cross. It stems from a national post-Katrina design competition sponsored by Global Green USA and actor/activist Brad Pitt for “a zero energy affordable housing development.” Ultimately, the block will hold five houses of one and two stories, a mid-rise 18-unit apartment building facing the river and a small community center facing the lake. These buildings are planned to use 75 percent less energy than typical buildings, and the houses are designed to conform to the U.S. Green Building Council’s highest rating: LEED platinum. The Global Green house is the first project building to be completed. Two simplified versions are now under construction alongside. In accordance with Global Green’s mission, the house is intended to showcase sustainable design and it’s currently open to the public as a demonstration house.

BEST ARCHITECTURAL FEATURE The most important aspect of this project is its overt commitment to the principles of sustainable design. Evidence of this is presented most intelligibly on a monitoring panel in the living room that provides real time as well as past graphic data on energy consumption and generation. When the house reaches its first anniversary this summer, it is expected to demonstrate zero annual consumption of electricity from the utility! The house features photovoltaic panels on the roof and a highly efficient geothermal heat pump for cooling and heating. It also collects rainwater from its roofs, stores it under the rear deck and pipes it independently for toilets and landscaping.

The interior is pleasant and carefully designed. This is a thin building with a linear plan on two levels, so it seems familiar to New Orleanians. The downstairs has an open plan with a front porch and a bedroom study to the side. Upstairs are two bedrooms and a back deck. The natural and recycled materials are well chosen and handsome. The recycled heart pine floor is particularly beautiful. Although the square footage is small, the open interior feels quite commodious and bright.
The exterior of the house isn’t quite as successful. Because the competition-winning architects hail from New York with Boston engineers, it isn’t surprising that the structure can appear to be a bit alien. Roof extensions on all sides, for example, are important in places where snow and ice accumulate, but they aren’t as common in New Orleans and add to a somewhat ungainly appearance. Seemingly random shifts in materials and small windows that barely open also are surprising. Rear decks are highly valued in most of the U. S. but they are less useful than porches that provide sun and rain protection here.
However, these are minor concerns given the overarching goals for the development. As this commendable project moves forward, if the sustainable aspects can be incorporated in a more inclusive and straightforward manner, costs will be reduced, and an affordable sustainable dwelling for New Orleans may someday result.

Mayne Residence

PROJECT TYPE This is a single-family house for a couple, Alan and Linda Mayne and their two daughters, who wanted to return to their home site in Lakeview following Hurricane Katrina. The new dwelling incorporates the concept of the raised house so that another flood wouldn’t destroy all of the family’s belongings.

BEST ARCHITECTURAL FEATURE We have seen many raised structures since Katrina. But most often they simply look like a regular house on stilts, leaving the ground below as an undesigned, residual parking area. This house demonstrates a new way of thinking. The areas at ground level are all designed as outdoor rooms, inextricably interwoven with the interior spaces above. As we know, lots of life here can be enjoyed out of doors, as long as one is protected from the rain and the hot sun. This house serves as shelter in two ways: the interior provides the more conventional domestic spaces of air-conditioned life 9 feet above the ground, and the building as a whole acts as a shelter for the spaces below. There is a barbecue area on the north side, a workshop area and a play area as well as the traditional suburban carports. The theme of inhabitable outdoor space is even carried to the street with a second-level entry porch accessed by broad seating steps that connect to the front sidewalk, a contemporary stoop.

All of the areas below are well demarcated; two colors of gravel as well as concrete and plant material define the “floor.” It is important also that the outdoor spaces below are also easily accessible both physically and visually from above, unifying the indoor and outdoor realms. Byron Mouton, the architect, estimates that a raised house can cost about $40,000 more than the discredited slab on grade version. If the raised house also generates usable well-designed space below, that could be a bargain.

URBANbuild House III

PROJECT TYPE This house is the third in a series and the fourth to be undertaken by students of the Tulane School of Architecture. While located in the same Central City neighborhood around Seventh Street as two of the earlier projects, it differs in some important ways. First, it’s a compact, two-story building. This resulted from the fact that the house is located on a small, substandard-sized city lot. Since there are many lots like this, the collaborator, Neighborhood Housing Services, was interested to see if a successful solution could be found for such a small property.

BEST ARCHITECTURAL FEATURE This house has an energetic spirit that engages the passerby immediately. It may derive from the strong red color, the prominent corner location, the folded form using shiny corrugated metal or the deployment of eccentric small square windows popping through the facade. It might in part derive from the fact that the entire process of design and construction was filmed for a popular Sundance Channel reality show series called Architecture School.

The house is very well-organized, with a plan as efficient as a boat’s. It includes boat-like built-in elements, including storage and bookcases, maximizing use of the space. The stair to the upstairs is in the center of the house, with an open wood railing that also can serve as display shelving. Because of the stairs’ position, upon arrival in the center of the second floor one can immediately enter either bedroom: There are no hallways in the house. In addition, it has a generous porch that overlooks the street corner, connecting visually with the neighboring houses. There is also a back porch downstairs and there are small porches off the bedrooms upstairs. So even on the small lot there’s good connection between indoor and outdoor space.
The downstairs interior feels spacious yet compact. The wall next to the neighbor’s house is punctuated with small square windows that perfectly frame portions of the nearby wall almost like paintings, providing light and ventilation as well as privacy. Puzzlingly, the small square windows are utilized upstairs overlooking the big open street intersection, where the New Orleans tradition of large openings would have been more appropriate and effective. But overall, this project is a winner.

Rutledge + Maselli Residences

PROJECT TYPE A fine new project has appeared Uptown on Laurel Street. It is immediately noticeable both because of its contemporary appearance and its unusual massing. It is an ell shaped building opening toward the corner. Each of the two wings is an independent unit, so it’s a double duplex. The owners, builders and designers are Chuck Rutledge and Caroline Maselli. The corner lot was vacant after Hurricane Katrina in a neighborhood that attracted the owners’ attention. They decided to create the unusual footprint to contrast with the other three historic buildings at their corner, all of which occupy the front of the site.

BEST ARCHITECTURAL FEATURE The major theme of the building is openness. From the large sliding entry doors with barn hardware to the bedrooms’ generous corner windows, there’s a fine sense of connection between the house and the green space and intersection beyond. As a design/build situation, Rutledge and Maselli were able to add and move windows as the project progressed, so there’s an abundance of fine-controlled daylight in the house. The pair was also concerned with natural ventilation, hoping to limit the need for air conditioning to the greatest extent possible. So the multiplicity of operable windows, the sliding doors and even a pair of dutch doors in each unit provide great airflow. In addition to its natural ventilation strategy, several other aspects of sustainable design have been incorporated. For example, high-performance glass and small openings on the west side control heat gain and tankless hot water heaters increase energy efficiency.

The house also became a catalyst for neighborly connections. Rutledge spent about a year-and-a-half in the construction of the building with assistance from Maselli. Many people stopped to talk about the house and some even volunteered to help with the construction. In addition Rutledge’s mother built the teak corner windows – they’re a high point of the design. There is a pair in each bedroom and they are bi-fold, hinged on the jamb opposite the corner, so that when the windows are fully open the corner disappears!
Another highlight in each unit is its stair. The treads – large pieces of recycled red pine from the Warehouse District – are set into a steel channel that’s cantilevered from a steel stringer at the wall. So the stairs lightly float one up.
The exterior public sides are clad in a dense cementitious board, held in place by stainless steel screws at the corners. Under certain sun conditions, the screws sparkle brilliantly. There is a glass canopy over each entrance. Of course, the canopy is a fairly typical New Orleans element, and here it protects the large sliding entry doors from the rain. Rutledge originally intended to use metal for the canopy roof but enjoyed the light coming into the doorways so much that he decided to use clear acrylic instead. This is indicative of the intelligence and sensitivity of the entire project. “For the most part, things have worked out like we wanted,” he says.

John P. Klingman is a registered architect and a Favrot Professor of Architecture at Tulane University. He was an invited participant in New Orleans Pecha Kucha Night #1.

 

The Architects’ Picks
The New Orleans Chapter of the American Institute of Architects recently announced the recipients of its 2009 Design Awards.
According to a statement issued by the local chapter of the AIA, “this year’s awards theme ‘Responsive, Responsible, Timeless’ reflects AIA New Orleans’ aim to continue raising awareness of the importance of classic architecture and great design.”
 AIA New Orleans Executive Director, Melissa Urcan said, “the purpose of the Design Awards is to recognize and honor great work in the area of architecture. This year the final award determinations were tough, but the jury did a great job selecting winners that represent a spectrum of designs.”

 

Architecture Award of Merit
Brother Martin High School, Roland H. and Macy Patton Meyer; Science and Mathematics Building
New Orleans
Waggonner & Ball Architects

 

Architecture Award of Honor
Bozeman Fish Technology Center
Bozeman, MT
Eskew+Dumez+Ripple and Guidry Beazley Architects, a joint venture

 

Architecture Award of Merit
Bienville State Office Building
Baton Rouge
Eskew+Dumez+Ripple and Washer Hill Lipscomb, a joint venture

 

Residential Award of Merit
URBANbuild.designBUILD: Prototype #3
New Orleans
Byron Mouton, AIA, representing Tulane University’s URBANbuild program

 

Interior Award of Merit
Arthur Roger Gallery
New Orleans
Wayne Troyer Architects

 

Interior Award of Merit
Kenneth’s Hair with Style
New Orleans
bild DESIGN, Byron Mouton, AIA

 

Interior Award of Merit
The Orange Couch
Coffee Shop
New Orleans
AEDS, Ammar Eloueini

 

Residential Award of Merit
Private Residence
Metairie
Trapolin Architects, Peter Trapolin

 

Project Award of Merit
J-House
New Orleans
AEDS, Ammar Eloueini
Timothy Hursley
 

 

Historic Preservation, Adaptive Reuse, Rehabilitation Award of Merit
Swan Street Residence
New Orleans
bild DESIGN, Byron Mouton, AIA
 

 

Historic Preservation, Adaptive Reuse, Rehabilitation Award of Merit
United States Courthouse
Natchez, MS
Waggonner & Ball Architects

 

Hist. Pres., Adaptive Reuse, Rehabilitation Award
of Merit
Rayne Memorial United Methodist Church, Sanctuary Roof and Steeple Repair
New Orleans
Waggonner & Ball Architects

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