Of this year’s featured projects, two were already in construction prior to Hurricane Katrina, and two are the result of Katrina; the hurricane continues to be a primary reference point for architectural activity. There are some emerging positive indications for future development. At least three substantial, tall residential buildings are being planned for the CBD/Warehouse District and the Harrah’s Hotel has opened on Poydras Street, bringing activity to Fulton Street on its river side. Adaptive reuse is also continuing with, for example, the completion of the Western Union Building residential conversion on Carondelet Street designed and developed by Marcel Wisznia. Residential adaptive reuse projects in Bywater and the Lower Garden District are in design. A significant project about to begin construction is the Rice Mill conversion designed by WTA Architects just downriver from the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts. Also, in design by Mathes Brierre Architects, is a substantial project on the Algiers riverfront between the ferry terminal and the bridges. A riverfront planning study with a nationally recognized team coordinated by local architects Eskew+Dumez+Ripple has begun. Meanwhile, there’s also innovative design of all kinds at smaller scale within city neighborhoods as well as surrounding parishes. As financial support increases in a directed fashion, there are sure to be dozens of new buildings of all types and sizes that will emerge.

DAZZLING DESIGNLavin-Bernick Center for University Life, Tulane University

This series begins a new decade with this past year’s outstanding buildings on display. However, as fine as our images are, the buildings themselves hold interest beyond what can be conveyed in photos and text. We encourage everyone to go visit the projects to the degree that they’re publicly accessible. There, you’ll be able to more fully appreciate these buildings’ formal, spatial and material character. This will also help the community engage more fully in a discussion of architectural quality – an issue sure to be increasingly important as rebuilding continues.

Lavin-Bernick Center for University Life, Tulane University

DAZZLING DESIGNA lounge in Tulane’s U.C. is completely glazed behind a series of horizontal metal louvers.

PROJECT TYPE A major renovation and expansion of Curtis and Davis’s University Center (U.C.) was dedicated in December 2006. When completed in 1959, the U.C. was a jewel box of mid-century Modernist architecture on the Uptown Campus. It housed all the student services, amenities and recreational facilities – most importantly an indoor swimming pool, wrapped with lounges, meeting rooms and a cafeteria. While some of these original program components are now located in separate buildings, the new U.C. maintains the mix of formal and informal meeting spaces, amenities and services that make it central to campus life.

DAZZLING DESIGNChilled water is intended to trickle down panelsof stainless steel mesh to cool the air.

This is a highly transparent structure – a revitalization of the original concept. In the Curtis and Davis incarnation, the U.C. was a place to see and be seen – a place to gather with friends and classmates at the heart of the campus. As is often the case however, over the years the building had become badly worn and compromised from heavy use, commercial intrusions and unsympathetic Band-Aid renovations. Most unfortunate was a 1990s elevator addition that destroyed the clear, ample original stair circulation.

DAZZLING DESIGNA newbookstore extends from the side, forming an end to the Pocket Parkcourtyard.

This renovation and expansion has restored the openness, elegance and simplicity of the original concept while greatly expanding the building’s capabilities. (Full disclosure: the author was a member of university planning committees for the project.) Architect Vincent James likes to credit Tulane students for investing the project with concerns for sustainable design; the most obvious example was saving the structural frame of the existing building. Even though the reinforced concrete skeleton was in need of repair, at least $6 million was saved, compared to an all-new construction. All of the building systems and the exterior walls were replaced with today’s more highly efficient components. An unused roof terrace was captured for a flexible ballroom space and a new bookstore wing extends from the side of the old building, forming an end to the Pocket Park courtyard.

Visible and important changes mark the exterior edges of the building. On the U.C. Quad side, there’s a new dining terrace with an edge of continuous steps upon which to sit and watch the outdoor activities. Here and on the opposite side are new, full-height shading structures with slats of cumaru – a dense, pre-finished “sustainably harvested” tropical hardwood – to cut the strong daytime solar radiation. Along McAlister Drive, the ground now slopes toward the building, bringing much needed daylight to the lower level. On the main level there’s a generous new linear lounge along the edge, completely glazed behind a series of horizontal metal louvers. These are of varying spacing, in part resulting from shading studies conducted by the architects and the office of Jamie Carpenter, artist and glazing consultant for the project.

DAZZLING DESIGNThe expanded student center is the place to see and be seen for Tulane students and faculty.

Other sustainable aspects of the building are noticeable from the interior. These include three “solar chimneys” that augment daylight while releasing hot air at the top of the building. They are controlled by sensors as part of the building’s sophisticated energy management system. This is one of a series of sustainable systems developed by Matthias Schuler of Transsolar, the project’s climate consulting firm. There is a multiplicity of fans; the most arresting are gigantic ceiling fans, usually used for agricultural buildings, which rotate above the split-level corner lounge. In environmental response there are also two missteps. First, is the relative lack of openings in the façade that would enable a stronger inside/outside connection on the many fine days during the academic year. This was an objective early in the project but didn’t survive budget cuts. Strangely, a flapping fan system did. These devices in the dining area are a component of the mechanical system, moving air across the metal mesh ceiling, to augment radiant cooling. A concept based on the shoe-fly fans found in plantation house dining rooms, the moving panels seem an ineffective substitute for the ubiquitous New Orleans ceiling fan.

 A more interesting signature element of the building is the lobby water wall. Chilled water is intended to trickle down panels of stainless steel mesh, contributing to cooling in warm weather and producing strong sensual interest as well. This system is still being fine tuned, as are other aspects of the building’s environmental controls and energy management system. When all is adjusted and carefully operated, The Lavin-Bernick Center for University Life will have raised the bar for sustainable and visually compelling design in the city.

VJAA, Minneapolis, in association with James Carpenter Design Associates and Transsolar; WTA, consulting architects; Vincent James, Jennifer Yoos, principals; Nathan Knutson, managing principal; Paul Yaggie, senior project architect ; Wayne Troyer, consulting architect, Chris Goad, consulting construction administration; Nancy Bowden-Stewart, furnishings

Tchoupitoulas Studios

DAZZLING DESIGNTchoupitoulas Studios is a historic but contemporary hybrid.

PROJECT TYPE This is a “found space;” a portion of the former Lengsfield Packaging facility in the Warehouse District, just downtown from the GNO Bridge approach structures. Architect Wayne Troyer noticed the building as his firm was designing the Lengsfield Lofts conversion project. Subsequently, he and printmaker Teresa Cole purchased the building to use as studio workspaces. The 1937 exterior, possibly designed by Moise Goldstein’s office, feels like it’s always been there but the architects redesigned the outside, reopening the masonry walls where original windows had been removed. The new glass and metal assembly is a contemporary version of factory glazing, which fits seamlessly into the neighborhood. A new, small, steel canopy marks the entrance.

DAZZLING DESIGNInside, the studio is minimal, with an open workstation that gives everyone visual and conversational connectivity.

Like the outside, the inside of the building is well proportioned but spare, true to its industrial origin. However, maintaining this sense of simplicity required quite a bit of design effort. From the WTA office entry reception area to the right is a large two-story volume that comprises the design studio work zone. It is a hotbed of activity and principal Troyer’s area is an open workstation at the far corner, giving everyone on staff good visual and conversational connectivity. This workspace still contains the concrete supports for the corrugated cardboard box press that had been located there. Shade cloth at the window openings cuts direct sunlight but allows for dramatic view of the heroically scaled bridge structure beyond.

DAZZLING DESIGNTchoupitoulas Studios’ floor is sealed concrete with exposed brick walls and a dramatic view.

Here, as well as throughout the building, original materials are revealed without over embellishment. The floor is sealed concrete and the walls are exposed brick. The roof structure is newly exposed; there are built up trusses with labels on the wood: “Clark and Gueydan,” the local lumber company. Where some visual separation is desired, the architects employed polygala – a polycarbonate light transmissive panel. On the other side of the reception lobby is a pleasant double height conference room. Behind these front areas are the office’s service spaces with a mezzanine materials library tucked in above. 

DAZZLING DESIGNThe conference room is double height with a polycarbonate light transmissive panel.

Overall, the project is a demonstration of modest elegance, combining historic and contemporary elements. From the outside, one can hardly distinguish it from its Warehouse District context; inside is a rather different story. It is fine testimony to an architectural attitude that works particularly well in our city.

WTA Architects; Wayne Troyer, Principal Tracie Ashe, project architect; John Guarnieri, construction coordination

Dominican High School Siena Center

DAZZLING DESIGNAt the Siena Center at Dominican, daylight enters through the north-facing mezzanine.

PROJECT TYPE This structure houses a regulation sized basketball/volleyball court with seating for over 1,000 spectators. There is a running track above as well as a dance studio, weight and training rooms and some ancillary teaching spaces. A new lobby provides direct access to the gym and other school assembly spaces, including the Ambrose Reggio Gym – now a flex space – as well as Alumnae Hall – part of a previous Waggonner and Ball project. Dominican’s facilities are used heavily both during the school days and after hours, and now the school offers programs seven days a week. Dedicated in September 2006, the Siena Center opened its doors, affirming Dominican’s commitment to the neighborhood.

DAZZLING DESIGNThe structure houses numerous courts, tracks, studios and teaching spaces.

The focus of the project is the gym, a handsome space with the large-scale exposed structural components associated with this building type. The architects considered that the facility is primarily to be used by young women. A response was to design the elements of the long span steel assemblies to appear relatively slender, imparting a feeling of some delicacy. The big court is configured for major events but can also be used in many different ways; for instance, the space can be subdivided into two transversely oriented courts that can be used simultaneously when the bleachers are pushed back.

Architecturally the space is animated by daylight entering through the north-facing wall along the mezzanine running track. This light is balanced with a slot skylight at the south end of the space that washes a swath of sunlight down to the floor at midday. The running track (13 and a half laps per mile) also has glass at its outer corners, engaging the landscape and the neighborhood. The color palette is straightforward, since black and white are the school’s colors. Acoustically the space is rather live, reinforcing school spirit during competition. As is typical in this building type, all of the building system elements are exposed. Here they are carefully orchestrated; the most interesting are the long fabric supply ducts for air conditioning.

A new walkway and entry court connect the building lobby to the reconfigured parking area on the lakeside of the campus. The site plan emanates from a phased master plan the architects developed in the 1990s. There is an auto pick up/drop off zone at the edge of the new building. The second floor extends out on both the north and west sides to provide covered waiting and a path to the lobby. The new lobby, a wedge shaped, two story volume, is also of architectural interest. It features a balcony that links to the second floor components, including a linear dance studio. While primarily designed for movement with a flexible floor, this room has also served as a buffet area for events according to Jamie Lassere who coordinated the project for Dominican.

Dominican’s mission is enhanced by its new facility. This is a building with clear circulation and simple, durable materials like the terrazzo flooring and the brick and zinc exterior. It is quiet, responsible architecture, bordering on the ordinary but with moments of thoughtfulness. These include some unprogrammed conditions, small areas like a corner of the lobby balcony above the entrance, allowing for a comfortable conversation or just a place for a young person to comfortably look out on the campus activity.

Waggonner and Ball Architects; David Waggonner, principal-in-charge; Dennis Horchoff, project architect; Mac Ball, Maria Papacharalambous, Michael Stouse, Brian Swanner, Donald del Cid, Kuan-Yi Lo, Agnes van der Meij

Lakeside Camera Photoworks

DAZZLING DESIGNGlass panels along the exterior edges at Lakeside Camera.

PROJECT TYPE This project entailed the complete renovation and reconceptualization of a small business near Veterans Boulevard in Metairie.

Except for its location and general massing, Lakeside Camera Photoworks is new in every way. According to client David Guidry, the ruin caused by the flooding following Katrina demanded a total makeover, not only of the building but also of the business. A formerly nondescript commercial interior is now judiciously suffused with daylight. There are new glass wall panels along the exterior edges and a strategically placed small skylight creates a glow at the main reception/sales desk. There are several boat-shaped forms, including above the desk in the ceiling, and there’s a large curved glass wall that provides some subtle separation for the technical staff. This area as well as the staff production area is slightly elevated, to provide an overview, fostering easy communication with those in the public zone and continuity of circulation for staff.

DAZZLING DESIGNThe inside has clearly defined interactive stations.

The openness of the new space provides for many “places to be” within a compact store plan while also allowing for a multiplicity of activities. Technical staff with the processing equipment and computer work stations for the graphic designers, sales folk at a front desk, the public at kiosk workstations for image processing – all have been choreographed into a complex set of clearly defined, visually related spaces. There is even an espresso café along the front wall and a portrait studio, frame shop and gallery. Each of the activity zones has been given a specific identity of architectural elements. In addition, a new graphic identity for the entire business has been created both inside and out by Zandenewman Design.

The public zone is perhaps the most innovative. In the words of architect Errol Barron, “… one is not so much a customer as a participant.” One comes here to do things as well as buy things. There are computer work stations linked to kid corrals, play areas with low enclosures close to Mom as she works on a scrapbook of last week’s birthday party. The kiosks are organized but with bit of randomness, kind of like … floating! Yes, there’s a flood related theme.

After five frantic months of design and construction, the new facility opened last spring. This project is a microcosm of the attitude toward rebuilding that could make New Orleans thrive in new as well as traditional ways.

Errol Barron/Michael Toups Architects; Errol Barron, partner-in-charge

URBANbuild House 1

DAZZLING DESIGNURBANbuild is a project of Tulane Architecture.

PROJECT TYPE Located in Upper Tremé on Dumaine Street, lakeside of Claiborne Avenue in the 6th Ward, there’s a dramatically new 1,300-square-foot house. It is a single story structure with a somewhat linear plan but it is not a traditional shotgun. Instead, it’s the first URBANbuild house, a project of Tulane School of Architecture and Neighborhood Housing Services.

Perhaps the most engaging aspect of the project is not its physical appearance but the unusual and compelling circumstances that led to its existence. Post-Katrina, there has been lots of local interest in new ideas for building and designing houses. Under the direction of Tulane Architecture’s professor of practice Byron Mouton and project construction supervisor Sam Richards, a group of upper level students designed and built the house in nine months. The concept is not unique; it parallels programs at other Schools of Architecture – most notably the late Sam Mockbee’s Rural Studio at Auburn – but it’s a first for Tulane and New Orleans.

DAZZLING DESIGNThis prototypical house can be constructed in otherversions.

Architecturally, the house is a hybrid. It engages some traditional elements of the city’s residential buildings, but also has some unusual characteristics. Most successful is the front porch, clearly a contemporary version of an essential historic element. This porch features a great idea – a built-in bench facing the street – but also has unpainted wood, more like a deck. Also a mix is the massing: the linear form relates well to the long thin New Orleans lot but the roof has a ridge parallel to the street, like a extremely stretched Creole cottage rather than a shotgun. One contemporary design element is a large sliding door opening onto a rear porch. There is also a system of horizontally banded sliding windows, not commonly seen in historic areas of the city.

The house is considered prototypical; this means that the plan could be constructed again, in variations or in a mirrored version in other locations, as has long been the local practice. In fact in terms of environmental response, it turns out that the constructed house would have been more successful for solar exposure and shading if the mirrored form had been built. Prototypical design implies experimentation and two other design configurations are currently under construction. One of the biggest challenges in these projects has been affordability. This has been greatly augmented since the students are receiving academic credit instead of being financially compensated for their labor; a federal Housing and Urban Development grant and private donations are also involved.

“Preservation and progress can coexist – in fact we believe they must,” says Mouton. This is a commendable endeavor; to see well-designed contemporary buildings arising in New Orleans neighborhoods is a positive sign for the future.

Byron Mouton, director URBANbuild designbuild; Sam Richards, director of construction; Emilie Taylor, project manager; Claire Cahan, Jason Heinze, Matt Hux, Margaret Joyce, Andrea Patrick, Carlos Sanchez, Heather Skeehan, Emilie Taylor, Ben Wasserman, Seth Welty, Daniel Zangara, design studio

John P. Klingman is a registered architect and a Favrot Professor of Architecture at Tulane University.

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