Best New Architecture

5 Blueprints to Excellence

Jeffery Johnston Photographs

The National World War II Museum

US Freedom Pavilion: The Boeing Center

This is the latest completed project in the seemingly ever-expanding World War II Museum complex, an institution with a strong national profile that’s a premier attractor of visitors to our city. There are few spaces in New Orleans that have the impact of the new Freedom Pavilion. One reason is its scale. However, unlike a hotel atrium, it’s activated both by the vintage aircraft that fill the space and by walkways at three levels across it and along its edge. Museum President Dr. Nick Mueller explains that the pavilion was intended to showcase the large scale “arsenal of democracy” artifacts. In the absence of large warships, the biggest of these may be the building itself. The immense precast concrete panels and the interior metal elements of acoustical panels, aluminum guardrails and steel gratings are architectural manifestations of the same kind of industrial productive capacity.

The huge north-facing front curtain wall ultimately will enfront the “parade ground.” It is spectacular at night with the contents highlighted in the glowing box. Architecturally, the moves are just right. The building has large expansive planer walls, but they’re tilted and skewed from the vertical and horizontal, creating a dynamic condition. The pavilion can also be used as a flexible event space, with a hydraulic stage that can rise from the flat concrete floor. With the aircraft forming a virtual ceiling, this is already one of the most memorable spaces in the city and a landmark from the bridge approach as well.

Voorsanger Mathes LLC; Bartholomew Voorsanger, design principal; Martin Stigsgaard, Masayuki Sono, lead designers; Peter Miller, Issei Suma, Anastasiya Konopitskaya; Edward C. Mathes, managing principal; Peter F. Priola, project manager; Scott M. Evans, project architect.
 


Norman Mayer Branch

New Orleans Public Library

This year five new New Orleans Library branch buildings opened, four of them as a design/build venture with Gibbs Construction, Gould Evans Architects and Lee Ledbetter & Associates. One of the most successful architecturally is the Norman Mayer Branch Library located on Gentilly Boulevard adjacent to the Dillard University campus. It uses some of the same design strategies, elements and details as the Robert E. Smith Branch Library in Lakeview and the larger new buildings in Algiers and New Orleans East but here the choreography is exceptionally strong.

Upon arrival the information/checkout desk is central with books and periodicals easily visible and accessible in the open plan space. Toward the rear is the main stair with its steel grating guardrail. The second floor feels even more open and accommodating than the entry level, with great controlled daylight through west-facing windows with vertical steel shading devices to shield direct afternoon sun. Computer terminals are in the darker middle zone and at the front corner is a comfortable reading area that looks back out over the building entrance. Even on a weekday morning the library was busy, indicating its importance as a neighborhood institution.

Lee Ledbetter & Associates; Lee Ledbetter, principal-in-charge; Curtis Laub, Tara Cotterman, Chris Loudon, Amy Peterson; Gould Evans Architects; Tony Rohr, principal-in-charge; Robert Riccardi.
 


Academy of Sacred Heart

Arts & Athletics Facility

This project combines the design of a new gymnasium with the renovation of an existing building into the Favrot Arts Center. Both of the structures are along Carondelet Street behind Sacred Heart’s iconic original building on St. Charles Avenue. A new steel truss bridge above Carondelet Street provides an exceptionally clear access to the new complex for students, and adds to the drama of the design. The bridge arrives at a large elevated porch along the front of the gym. The porch is occupiable both at the upper level and the lower entry level, where an exterior concession stand built into the brick gym wall activates the space. Monumental concrete columns support the roof and extend down along the outer edge of this outdoor room. The columns are formed to provide drainage channels from the large roof surface. The water flows into a raingarden at the base of the building and returns into the earth through rockbeds, recharging the groundwater and reducing runoff.

On both levels one arrives along the edge of the main gym space after passing through a corridor that continues along the axis of the new bridge. Surrounding the gym floor are bleachers on two sides, an upper level track and a band of translucent clerestory windows, providing strong ambient daylight below. Although designed for athletics, the gym also is a fine space for gatherings, allowing the entire high school to come together in one interior space. Equally supportive is the Favrot Arts Center, a thoughtful renovation that accommodates programs for the arts, music, dance and even broadcast. Perhaps most unusual is the outdoor ceramics studio that has found a home on the mezzanine that links the arts building with the gym. This covered breezeway with its kiln and worktables epitomizes the inhabitability of New Orleans’ indoor/outdoor world.

Waggonner & Ball Architects; David Waggonner, principal-in-charge; Mac Ball, consulting principal; Sarah Weinkauf, Maria Papacharalambous, Ramiro Diaz, Charles Sterkx, Allen Tufts, Fred Allison, Dennis Horchoff.
 


St. Katherine Drexel Chapel

At Xavier Univerity of Louisiana

An important building on the Xavier campus opened this year. Designed by the nationally known firm of Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects, the project fulfills a longstanding dream of the university and its president, Dr. Norman C. Francis. Its position on the campus is significant, on axis with the location from which Pope John Paul II spoke on his 1987 New Orleans visit. The axis is clearly reinforced both outside and inside the chapel.

On the exterior the building is frontally symmetrical, with an additional handsome element, the bell tower/day chapel on its right side. It is octagonal in plan; this is evident even from outside because of the eight-sided truncated angular roof form. Most evident are the high-quality construction materials: a beautiful white Portuguese limestone and the high-profile copper roof. The roof is tall, slightly evident even from the elevated Interstate 10 behind the building.

Inside, beyond a skylit reception lobby, the sanctuary is approached frontally with the axis transformed into a vertical one inside the space. A screen that lines the interior lofted ceiling becomes a wonderful fabric of light from skylights above, but the main space comes upon one abruptly. Often in centrally planned churches the ambulatory, the walkway around the central space, plays a strong transitional role. Usually rather dark, as at Santa Costanza, an early Christian church in Rome, it provides a breathing space before one finally engages the sanctuary. Fortunately, the ambulatory here is graced with finely fused-glass windows by local artist Laurel Porcari, which add a smaller scale humane sculptural presence. The chapel is a peaceful place on the active, growing Xavier campus.

Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects; Cesar Pelli and Fred Clarke, senior design principals; Mitchell Hirsch, principal-in-charge; Dave Coon, project architect; Mark McDonnell, Alex Kovenat; Waggonner & Ball Architects, (Consulting Architect for Construction Administration) Mac Ball, principal-in-charge; David Waggonner, consulting principal; Dennis Horchoff, project architect.
 


Grow Dat Youth Farm

City Park

The most unusual building this year also houses the most unusual institution, a nonprofit created by Tulane University and City Park: the Grow Dat Youth Farm. The new facility supports the farm, where 35 high school students work learning to grow and harvest crops for local consumption. The students are paid for their work, and they learn about caring for and preparing the vegetables for the table. Under the auspices of the Tulane City Center, more than 50 upper level students from the Tulane University School of Architecture (TSA) were involved in every aspect of design and construction of the project in studios led by professors Abigail Feldman, Emilie Taylor and Scott Bernhard (full disclosure: the author is also a TSA faculty member). With the building now virtually complete, the farm began operations in 2012.

Managing a fledgling nonprofit, Youth Farm co-directors Johanna Gilligan and Leo Gorman recognized that resources are precious, so the building had to be highly efficient and low in cost. The building utilizes seven recycled standard shipping containers. Some provide the storage necessary for production; one even houses the farm office and conference space. The steel containers are strong, so they provide much of the support and lateral bracing for the roof structures. Some containers are organized around the airy double-height outdoor classroom that’s the heart of the project. This space, open for cross ventilation, is a comfortable place for informal events with its generous roof and louvered screens providing shade and shelter.

The project is sustainable to a fault; roof water is collected and composting toilets are featured. The farm is located on one of the former golf courses, abandoned after Hurricane Katrina. The fields were bioremediated, and a new bioswale enhances onsite water storage and groundwater recharge. This project showcases the ways that architecture can both inspire and support our collective aspirations.

Scott Bernhard, architect of record and design team leader; Emilie Taylor, project design/build leader and senior designer; Dan Etheridge, bio-systems designer and project/community development leader.
 


Rosa F. Keller

Library and Community Center

The Rosa F. Keller Library and Community Center is a gem. The Community Center occupies an early 20th century Arts and Crafts-style raised house that was civil rights pioneer Keller’s home; the Broadmoor Branch of the New Orleans Public Library provides a contemporary counterpoint. From the street, the two buildings appear as a linear mass, almost like a train. The complex craftsman facade of the community center is balanced by the simple mass and ubiquitous metal screen that wraps the new building. The entry is in between, allowing either structure to be used independently. On the neighborhood side of the community center there’s a ground-level deck and garden terrace. Had the terrace been located at the same level as the café inside, the indoor/outdoor connection would’ve been even stronger. However, the outdoor seating is welcome and the space has already become a miniature park for the neighborhood. Rainwater runoff control is also an important element of planning, appropriately in this low part of the city. Roof water is brought into a small pool near the entrance and then down into a well-planted raingarden defined by very chunky walls of concrete construction.

The interior is as successful as the exterior. The contrast between the richly paneled rooms of the community center with the wonderful freeflowing space of the library provides an encapsulated lesson in the history of architecture during the century that separates the construction of the two buildings. The central courtyard of the library is a welcome New Orleans element that augments daylight in the reading areas. The exposed heavy timber structural system changes direction in ways that correspond to the different uses below. Tying the building together is the lighting system of vertical fluorescents that unify the interior brilliantly.

A feisty neighborhood and a strong design team have produced an outstanding project.

Eskew+Dumez+Ripple; R. Allen Eskew, project principal; Steve Dumez, design principal; Kurt Hagstette, project director; Jason Richards, project architect; David Demsey, Mark Reynolds, Robert Kleinpeter, Rick Dupont.

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