Best New Architecture
Our annual survey of creative design
The abundance of contemporary design in the New Orleans area continues. Each project featured is a different type of building, demonstrating the intensity and diversity of new local architecture. Particularly evident this year is an array of compelling work at a vast variety of scales, from the gargantuan University Medical Center to the intricate interior of French Truck Coffee.
University Medical Center New Orleans
A former residential neighborhood on the lake side of Claiborne Avenue between Canal Street and Tulane Avenue has been completely transformed with the construction of the recently completed University Medical Center. Funded through the state of Louisiana and including FEMA support as the replacement for Charity and University hospitals, it’s Louisiana’s largest teaching hospital. It is a state-of-the-art facility with respect to medical technologies; it’s also designed to function through severe hurricane conditions including flooding, high winds and loss of city utility infrastructure. Yet despite the multifaceted technical accommodations, the building complex is intelligible and handsome.
A major challenge in any large medical complex is clarity of circulation. Here the sense of orientation begins with the atrium lobby. It is a transparent, three story, white metal-clad volume with an elegant canopy, equally delineated and approachable from the Canal Street and Tulane Avenue sides. Upon entry, a cross axis becomes apparent, connecting the clinic building toward the lake and the hospital toward the river. In each building this cross axis ends in a tee that connects with another major public corridor. These corridors always have an exterior view and natural light, sources of orientation and connection so often lacking in hospitals.
On the outside, the designers have utilized a varied palette of elements that create a handsome, if complicated, composition applied to the simple rectangular blocks of the building. Between these blocks are a series of inhabitable, well-landscaped courtyards, some with water features. The only aspect one would wish for is a greater connection to the fabric of the city and the richer transitions from indoor to outdoor space that are so characteristic here.
In addition to extensive landscaping, the building benefits from fine furnishings and the inclusion of a great deal of art, beginning with the giant suspended sculpture in the lobby. The art demonstrates another level of caring that helps create warmth amid the somewhat impersonal institutional space.
Blitch Knevel /NBBJ A Joint Venture; NBBJ Architects; Mackenzie Skene, partner-in-charge; Eric Hanson, project manager; Jose Sama, design leader; Janet Dugan, interiors leader; Brian Zeallear, delivery leader; Dave Owsiany, medical planning leader; Blitch Knevel Architects; Ken Knevel principal-in-charge; Ron Blitch, consulting principal; Marty Tovea, project manager
French Truck Coffee
This conversion of a real ugly duckling on lower Magazine Street is a treat. A spiffy, bright yellow exterior heralds a beautifully crafted interior. The retail counter is marked by evocative, tactile material choices and a comfortable design ambiance. The best element is a tempered glass wall that produces a seamless connection with the production space where the mystery of coffee roasting is there to behold.
Colectivo; Seth Welty, principal with Sarah Satterlee; Matt Larkin and Andrew Ryan, fabrication
The Park at South Market
A striking new building greets those heading from uptown New Orleans toward the Vieux Carré. Named The Park because of its primary function, it also sports the large signage of its retail tenant AR Haus. It is unusual for a parking structure to become an object of visual attention; as a banal program, it rarely stimulates designers to creativity. However, there are two aspects of this building that create a memorable appearance. First is the large-scale frame that rises the full height of the building. Second is the varying pattern of horizontal precast concrete beams that form the structure’s bright white façade. The beams are an innovative use of inherently colored precast elements; they were produced by the same manufacturer as the structural frame, demonstrating a logical and efficient system.
The building is also the harbinger of a new neighborhood, named South Market by the developers, that’s emerging from a sea of parking lots. New buildings will add a substantial amount of housing to a part of the city that recently has had few residents. The only troublesome aspects of the development are the very narrow raised sidewalks, resulting from the requirement to establish the buildings’ ground floor well above street level, necessitating awkward steps and handrails along their length. The next residential building, The Beacon, also designed by EDR, is nearing completion. In addition, all of the new projects complement the fine renovation of the Rouses Supermarket across the street.
Eskew+Dumez+Ripple, Steve Dumez, principal-in-charge, Jose Alvarez, Charles Hite, Sabeen Hasan
The Harrell Building
Here is an important recent building in the rapidly revitalizing Oretha Castle Haley corridor, a major mixed-use structure occupying most of a Central City block. It has a four-story commercial/office component and a five story residential wing, the King Rampart Apartments. The idea for the project originated with the Gulf Coast Housing Partnership, a nonprofit developer with extensive engagement in the neighborhood. Working with the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority, they saw the potential of the site; multiple properties were acquired, and eventually NORA moved its offices from the CBD to the building. The project required complex and time-consuming financing, but the result is a real winner.
The architectural treatment of the two primary programs is distinct. Most assuredly contemporary is the King Rampart Apartment façade with its corner entrance facing Martin Luther King Boulevard. There is a handsome lobby with a high degree of transparency, a well designed reception desk and brightly colored mailboxes in the elevator lobby. On the upper floors small lounges along the corridor break down the scale and provide some wonderful views of the neighborhood. Another positive design element is a courtyard outside the lobby, where residents enjoy gathering on warm evenings, engaging passersby.
On the Oretha Castle Haley side, the building is more urban, coming tight to the sidewalk along its face, with a sculptural projecting entry canopy. There is an inset ramp for accessibility and glazing for the first floor commercial space. The brick wall is neutral in color, but the curtain wall elements and windows are a colorful counterpoint. Only the slightly discordant corner tower detracts from the overall composition. The exterior of the apartment building is distinct, with multiple materials and bold accent colors. This provides just enough articulation in what otherwise might be an overwhelmingly large scale project.
CCWIV Architecture; Carl Westerman principal
Lakeshore Branch Library, Jefferson Parish
A quiet jewelbox of a building is situated on the south side of the drainage canal along West Esplanade Avenue. It is a branch library, one of a number in the Greater New Orleans area that has recently arisen. This new building replaces a library badly damaged by the post-Katrina flooding. It transparently enfronts the canal to the north, but the entrance is from the west side. This is a nicely choreographed element with a roof-level frame extending to embrace the entering public. An adjacent ramp that provides an accessible entrance is also well integrated into the entry sequence. Once inside, there’s direct access to a meeting room for book and community events. Beyond, one of the reading areas opens to the left while the desk is directly ahead.
It is immediately apparent that this is a wonderful interior. There is daylight coming from multiple directions. There is a multiplicity of places to read, and the collection is well organized and visually accessible. Although it’s a single story building, there are different ceiling heights that reinforce the variety of spaces and allow for clerestory lighting. The stacks are higher than the designers preferred, but the lack of total visibility adds a bit of mystery to the otherwise straightforward planning. Other aspects of the successful interior are the warm materials and bright color palette. People appreciate the building; it’s well populated and has a very high record of usage among the parish branch libraries.
Sizeler Thompson Brown architects; Brian Faucheux, principal-in-charge; Crystal Mitchell, Charles Neyrey, project architects; Julia Stefanski, interior designer; Toomas Soosaar, landscape architect
Maumus Science Center
Maumus (pronounced like the Carnival krewe) is an unusual project for St. Bernard Parish Public Schools. Located near the river in Old Arabi, its core is a venerable “renaissance revival” 1927 school building. The additions have created a campus that’s a magnet for study of the sciences. The goal is for every student, from kindergarten through high school, to engage these special facilities.
Most eye-catching is a metal truncated cone that houses a planetarium. The complex also features a renovated auditorium/theater with flexible bleacher seating and large front-facing science display rooms on two levels. There is a commodious cafeteria, daylit on two sides, and food science labs that work with a kitchen garden. Outside is a “garden shed” that looks like it could survive the strongest possible hurricane. Its roof has an oculus calibrated as a sundial, designed by the architects to mark daily solar time throughout the year. Between the building elements are raingardens with bioswales that demonstrate current stormwater management techniques, increasingly important in southern Louisiana.
The muscular new steel structure, especially noticeable at the new entrance and lobby, contrasts well with the masonry construction of the older building. Renovating the historic school was a labor of love; it included restoring the colors of the original coffered plaster ceiling of the lobby. All of the new elements have a distinctive character; the planetarium skin recalls that of the St. Bernard Parish Performing Arts Center, another Waggonner & Ball post-Katrina project.
Waggonner & Ball Architects; David Waggonner, principal-in-charge; Sarah Weinkauf, project architect; Brian Swanner, Charles Sterkx, Emily Palumbo, Dennis Horchoff
A new breed of pop-up additions is occurring, particularly in the downriver neighborhoods. Among the very best is this expansive addition near the river in Marigny. Particularly adept is the interconnection of interior rooms with a multiplicity of exterior spaces and the counterpoint between the original shotgun and its new companion.
bildDESIGN; Byron Mouton and Tony Christiana, principals in charge, Will Soniat, Matt DeCotis, Dixon Jelich, Emile LeJuene, Daniel McDonald
Toledano Street House
An unusual house in Central City was designed and constructed by students in the Tulane School of Architecture URBANbuild program. Seventh in the ongoing series, it’s long and horizontal facing the street, a rare New Orleans variation of the southern dogtrot vernacular house. Most striking is a series of slatted panels that slide to reveal a porch, then an open interior kitchen and finally a covered deck. It is a terrific party house, utilized to great advantage by owner Rob Eddington, who caters events there.
Byron Mouton, architect, director of URBANbuild with adjunct professor Tom Holloman; Sam Richards, URBANbuild co-director of construction; Tony Christiana, contractor of record.
Student credits at URBANbuild.tulane.edu.
This is a stunning renovation of the venerable WWL studios, a long ago 7UP bottling plant on N. Rampart Street in the Vieux Carré. The sensitive but subtle introduction of daylight from clerestories characterizes the spaces. Especially memorable is the minimalist lobby, with shimmering translucent vertical acrylic tubes accented by blue LED lighting, perhaps echoing the flickering light of our earliest TVs.
Eskew+Dumez+Ripple; Steve Dumez, principal-in-charge, Charles Hite, Tim Dumatrait, Mark Reynolds, Jenny Pelc, Lauren Lacey, Kelly Colley project team
John P. Klingman is a registered architect and a Favrot Professor of Architecture at Tulane University. His recent book, New in New Orleans Architecture, is available at local bookstores.