Drawing the Line

This year we’re seeing the first institutional, post-Hurricane Katrina projects come online. They precede a series of publicly funded projects that will make a substantial contribution to the area, including new and refurbished schools, police and fire stations, and libraries. We have learned to be patient with respect to rebuilding. Whether it’s the bureaucracy associated with the state Road Home program, FEMA funding, other local, state and federal agencies, insurance companies or philanthropic organizations, the complexities of finance, planning and programming have been great. Then there are the multiyear processes of architectural design and construction required for projects beyond the scale of single family residences, so we now recognize that it will be at least several more years before new building projects will have a substantial impact on our community. But meanwhile, there are success stories to report this year.
Rebuild Center at St. Joseph Church New Orleans
WTA with Detroit Collaborative Design Center; Wayne Troyer, principal-in-charge; Kenyon Zimmerman, project designer

Wayne Troyer Architects has completed a project directly related to the post-Katrina condition. It is designed to be a temporary building, providing resources for the New Orleans homeless community. It is an outreach effort of the adjacent St. Joseph Catholic Church, fostered by longtime homeless advocate Sister Vera Butler, who had previously provided assistance out of a single trailer. The new project provides basic services including food, bathrooms, showers and laundry facilities, as well as mailboxes. There are also spaces for counseling and provision for a mobile medical van to be accommodated.  Supportive activities, including a weekly afternoon music performance by members of the New Orleans Musicians Clinic, are programmed in the courtyard.

The project began with an effort by the Detroit Collaborative Design Center working with the church. A team of designers forged a program and established parameters for the center. Studio WTA became involved in schematic design and produced contract documents with a novel aspect. The drawings indicated which parts of the project would be constructed through the traditional contractor process while volunteers demarked other areas for construction. Also innovative was the incorporation of prefabricated trailers for highly serviced components of the project, saving time and costs. What has emerged is a facility that is light, airy, commodious and active and has a striking appearance, both by day and by night. With a simple kit of parts, the architects have created a strong sense place.

For the church the site was obvious; the building complex occupies a portion of its parking lot along Gravier Street. An existing elevated walkway and utility structure that connects portions of the Louisiana State University medical campus magnifies the scale and presence of the new construction below.

The Rebuild Center is organized around a rectangular court, clear and, of course, appropriate for New Orleans. There are three large rotating panels that connect the courtyard with the street. The front edge is also defined by some of the trailers and a green screen – a metal armature for vines, currently intertwined with confederate jasmine that combines verdancy with some visual connection between the court and the street. There is lots of covered outdoor space for people to engage in conversation while waiting to use the facilities or eating the lunch that’s provided daily. Shed roofs overlap above, encouraging airflow. There are also outdoor ceiling fans, augmenting air movement when there is little breeze. There are also plantings, strategically arranged by landscape designer Tammany Baumgarden, to provide shade and demark space. Through these simple and effective concepts, the Rebuild Center is pleasant and comfortable to inhabit. Only the trailers have conventional mechanical systems.

The boxy brown trailers are wrapped with other materials, shielding their banal surfaces and bringing them into a unified whole. The palette includes cementitious board and polycarbonate panels that are strong, translucent and affordable. The overall structure is compromised of wood posts and trusses supporting metal roofs.  Two species of wood are used: angel heart as vertical paneling and pine slats spaced horizontally to create sliding panels, as is typical in agricultural buildings.

A couple of special touches enhance the sensibility of the center. One is a colorful mural along the wall facing the courtyard. Another one is the court surface, where the lines of the parking lot have been left visible. Counter intuitively, the surface is a surprising reminder that the site was once and will someday again be a parking lot. Meanwhile, with its emphasis on community and dignity, the Rebuild Center provides a supportive environment for those trying to reestablish their lives here.

LA/SPCA Animal Rescue and Care Center
Eskew+Dumez+Ripple; Allen Eskew, principal-in-charge; Kurt Hagstette, project architect; Carol Mockbee

This is our first recognition of a manufactured building in New Orleans Magazine’s annual architecture series. In order to accommodate a challenging timetable, Eskew+Dumez+Ripple was led to specify a pre-engineered building for this project. It is the first in a multiphase program establishing the new Dorothy Dorsett Brown Louisiana SPCA Campus on the West Bank, replacing the old Japonica Street SPCA facility near the Industrial Canal. The new ARCC holds 350 animals. It supports adoption and animal control, with multiple areas for animal holding. Animals are monitored for health, and the holding areas are specifically designed to keep healthy animals separated from others.  The second phase of the project, currently in design, will includes a separate building housing the public adoption facility, a walk-in clinic as well as education, staff and administrative facilities. This will allow the current building to be completely devoted to animal control, a service the SPCA provides the city of New Orleans.

The building provides a humane, efficient and delightful environment for animals, staff and the public. The provision of multiple sources of daylight is particularly welcoming. From the outside the building is a simple blue shed dwarfed by the adjacent massive concrete and steel ramps of the Crescent City Connection. The only hints of architectural interest are the multiplicity of windows in “wrong” places and a canopy sheltering the entrance.

However, upon entering the lobby one is immediately struck by the bold and carefully orchestrated interior spaces. Although the building doesn’t appear to be tall when seen from the exterior, the interior has a surprising vertical emphasis. The architects have taken advantage of this volume, leaving many spaces of the building open up to the roof structure. The utilities, which are quite extensive in this building, are carefully located and visible above. But the best aspects of this condition are the skylights; numerous small squares of glass allow shafts of light to reach down through the spaces, making both people and animals aware of the conditions outside. This is important to prevent disorientation of the animals, some of whom may stay in the building for months. To provide further stimulation, staff and volunteers take the dogs outdoors each day to exercise yards located on the sides of the building. Shading structures are planned to increase the comfort of these areas in hot or rainy weather, providing another potential opportunity for architectural expression.

Director Ana Zorrilla, praises the architects for careful attention to “what the public experience would be.” Our relationship with animals is colored by emotion, whether it’s the joy associated with adopting a pet or the sadness of giving one up. So the front desk area is divided into two zones, providing a discreet distance between the two conditions. The adoption spaces are ample for both the public and the animals. Some adoptable cat kennels are highly visible, set into the public hall that also leads to the dog adoption rooms. To get to puppy adoption, one first traverses the area where the mature dog runs are located, improving their chance at adoption. This is a big, bright corner room, whose multiple windows provide visual counterpoint to the multiplicity of dog sounds within.

A few areas deep within the building are rather bleak, with low ceilings and no daylight. Here the staff has placed inspiring quotations on the corridor wall. It would also be a great place to display some of the children’s art that has accompanied the building’s opening. With a tight budget and time constraints, the architects have succeeded in designing spaces good for both animals and people.

Brother Martin High School Roland H. and Macy Paton Meyer Science and Mathematics Building
Waggonner and Ball Architects; David Waggonner, principal-in-charge; Mac Ball, Dennis Horchoff, Kwan-Yi Lo, Charles Sterkx, Brian Swanner, Alan Tufts, Trinh Vu

This is the second recent building in a multiphase project reconfiguring and enhancing the campus for this boy’s college preparatory school. It lies diagonally across the campus from the Ridgley Fine Arts and Athletic Center of 1999, and it adjoins the original 1954 Lawrence and Saunders building along Elysian Fields Avenue.

The new building has state-of-the-art laboratory and classroom facilities but architecturally its strongest aspect is the double height lobby space with its glazed prow projecting toward the campus lawn. While this space isn’t the major school entrance lobby, it provides a focal point for the math and science building, also relating well to the new breezeway the architects have created between the new building and the original one. Along the breezeway, which has become a popular informal gathering space, there are patterned walls on each side, a reference to the mathematics program of the building. Above the breezeway the architects have designed a covered outdoor bridge connection that links to the mezzanine of the lobby.

Classrooms and labs are the core of the building; most have ample daylight, with automatic shades to provide light control when needed. Along the exterior edge, ceilings stop short of the wall, allowing curious students a glimpse of the mechanical and structural systems. Several classrooms are clustered around each lab, providing easy access for hands-on experiments. While visiting, we saw an upper level environmental science lab group enthusiastically dissecting small sharks. Perhaps even more attention to sustainability could have enhanced the learning experience. For example, the prefabricated sunscreens on the glass lobby wall seem a bit awkward and inadequate, even compared to those on the 1950s building.

The exterior of the building is striking, utilizing a palette of materials that begins with brick matching the original structure next door. However, the architects have also introduced zinc panels, a material common in Europe but only now becoming widely used here. During Hurricane Katrina the project was midway through construction and the zinc panels were stacked on site. They were ruined by the storm and had to be replaced, slowing construction. The patterns of zinc, used in both horizontal slats and vertically oriented panels, enliven the facade. They wrap over the east and west facades as well as the roof, providing a durable protective enclosure. The zinc wall of the second floor along Elysian Fields Avenue is canted outward, lessening heat gain on this western side – an innovative design idea. It is another example of design intelligence, working in tandem with the school’s desire to foster intelligence through the activities in the building.

Fifield House and Studio
Rick Fifield, architect

This is a live/work space for Rick Fifield and his wife Deborah Oppenheim. It is a combination of adaptive reuse of a 1950s commercial building and a new second floor addition.

At its inception some people might’ve thought this project was like putting makeup on a pig. In fact, the more apt analogy is making a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. The building had few redeeming qualities other than a fading Rabbi mural on the corner when Fifield and Oppenheim purchased it before Hurricane Katrina. What attracted them was its wonderful location in the heart of Marigny and its potential ease of renovation into an open plan office for Fifield’s architectural practice. However, as has so often been the case, Katrina changed everything – this time for the better – and an unlikely but highly successful project is the result.

From the street, one could walk by the building with little idea of the fine complement of spaces within. This is a very urban project that provides complete sheltered privacy on the ground floor and greater openness above – conceptually just like many buildings in the Vieux Carré. Traditionally there’s also a courtyard but it has been carved out of the commercial building and the carriageway is an industrial roll up door. Behind the courtyard, buffered from the street, is Fifield’s office space. The other side of the original building is transformed into living spaces. A large clerestory monitor provides daylight and ventilation from above, and living, dining, and kitchen rooms are orchestrated in a loft-like manner. Overhead are the open web steel joists, a signature of commercial construction, painted sky blue. There is also a new downstairs half bath with a continuous glass transom trimmed in lime green weaving through the joists, one of many surprising color juxtapositions in the building.

The theme of juxtaposition continues in the new upstairs. It is conceived both as a master suite and, potentially, an independent living unit. So in the shotgun-like space there’s a bedroom flanked by a galley kitchen on one side and a living space on the other. All of the rooms have openings with sliding, naturally finished, Spanish cedar screens connecting to a deck overlooking Chartres Street. It is an unusual, in-between space, not in the sense of New Orleans’ typical porch condition but as an outdoor space midway between the privacy of a domestic interior and the public aspect of the neighborhood. It overlooks the wide intersection where the city street grid shifts, both connecting and separating. It typifies the attitude of the project, both familiar and novel.

GREENbuild House
Coleman Coker, studio director; Tim Adams, Rebecca Bortolin, Robert Cogliandro, Nick Crowley, Jason Heinze, Mike Kazazis, Sean Kirkland, Joseph Lai, Andrea Martin, Reed Nossaman, Adam Porter, Jonathan Reyes, Darren Sadowsky, David Siegel, Ashley Sparks, Maggie Van Dusen, Jared Watson, design studio

The GREENbuild house a project designed and constructed by students of the Tulane School of Architecture. Under the direction of Coleman Coker, a Memphis architect who brought his firm to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, 17 students designed and constructed the building. However, unlike the others in the series, this project was an experiment in modular design and construction. The house was designed so that it could be constructed in sections indoors. Then the sections were brought to the site, connected and finished. The advantage of modular construction is that much of the work can be done in a controlled environment rather than out of doors and onsite construction time is greatly reduced. This is important in a city with extreme weather conditions such as ours. This house was constructed inside a Mississippi River wharf in Bywater, shipped and erected on the lot in a day.

The strongest aspect of this house is the way that three site-built porches connect the modules. The most commodious of these is the front porch with wide steps for sitting as it extends down to the sidewalk. The middle porch is at the connection of the living/dining module with the master bedroom module. The third is a traditional back porch behind the second bedroom module. The roofs are pitched up from one side – higher on the north to permit more daylight, lower and deeper on the south to provide more shade. This allowed them to be pre-attached and tilted up in place, further simplifying the onsite construction process. Translucent polycarbonate panels under the tilt-up sections mark the condition. When joined together, the module roofs pitch up from the center. This unusual condition, known as a butterfly roof, can be used to collect rainwater. The south facing roof is designed for photovoltaic panels, which will be installed this summer.

The house fits well into the neighborhood, perfectly scaled and positioned on the corner lot. It is designed to demonstrate more sustainable alternatives to air conditioning; operable windows have been placed to encourage cross ventilation, although their horizontal banding is foreign to New Orleans. There are ceiling fans and ductless HVAC units throughout, enhancing affordability. The house is a bit awkward in exterior finish; lime green panels are joined with aluminum strips that lend a somewhat unfinished appearance.

This house is also meant to be a prototype. The three modules could by arranged differently, as appropriate to other site conditions, and the porches would be specifically designed for each site. In this way. variants of the same design could be customized to a variety of neighborhood conditions – very New Orleans.

URBANbuild House II
Byron Mouton, director URBANbuild designbuild; Sam Richards, director of construction; Emilie Taylor, project manager; Emily Brudenell, Vincent Cangiamilla, Krystan Cosgrove, Jordan Gargas, Tyler Hutcherson, Charles Lucia, Trevor Meeks, David Merlin, Matt Shaver, Kristine Shull, Diana Steig, Jesse Zryb, design studio

This is a new residence in Central City, the second prototype in a series designed and constructed by students of the Tulane School of Architecture. The client was Neighborhood Housing Services. The design initiative has been supported through a post-Katrina Housing and Urban Development grant encompassing four dwellings. One was reviewed in last year’s issue, two are shown this year and one is currently under construction. A team of upper level students designed this project in the fall under the direction of Professor of the Practice Byron Mouton; in the spring construction semester, Sam Richards and Emilie Taylor joined him in the field.


The best aspect of the URBANbuild projects is that they’re occurring! In each case a new building is appearing in neighborhoods that have had virtually no new high-quality construction for decades. A blighted building was removed from this site to make way for the new dwelling. Architecturally, the house is contemporary, rather efficient in planning and built with simple, durable materials with some visual flair.

This is the first house in the series to be two stories. More sophisticated than last year’s stretched cottage, it’s a variation on the familiar camelback found in New Orleans. The greater density this affords is appropriate to the neighborhood and it was required here because the 1,300-square-foot house was designed to fit on a substandard lot. The project takes good advantage of its corner site. There is a side porch with a shading wall that shields the entrance. Changes of exterior materials mark sections of the house that could be expanded if a similar house were to be constructed on a wider or deeper lot. In this way, the house demonstrates the potential of adaptability to other circumstances.

There were also some innovations in construction. The students framed the house using prefabricated light gauge steel panels, lessening onsite construction time. In spite of this system, and the donated labor, affordability remains the projects’ biggest challenge.
2008 Design Awards

As Presented by the American Institute of Architects New Orleans

This year’s awards theme of “Architecture Matters” reflects AIA New Orleans’ aim to continue raising awareness. “It is clear that it takes the efforts of not only great designers and their teams but that of great civic leaders, business leaders and myriad individuals working in harmony to achieve important works of architecture. When done well, the result is a sustainable, beautiful, working, healthy built environment that serves the people and planet in which we live,” says AIA New Orleans Executive Director, Melissa Urcan.

The awards were presided over AIA New Orleans President Richard Fullerton, AIA, Design Awards Chair Angela O’Byrne, AIA, and featured several prominent keynote speakers including Dawn Watson-Romero, secretary of the Louisiana Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism.

“The amount of entries we received this year was overwhelming. I think it sends an important message to the people of New Orleans that our members are committed to the rebuilding and restoration of this great city,” says AIA New Orleans President Richard Fullerton.

This year’s jury was comprised of three internationally recognized architects: Sylvia Lavin, Professor of Architectural History and Theory at UCLA; Eric Owen Moss, FAIA, Eric Owen Moss Architects; and Peter Zellner, Associate AIA.

Master Planning and Urban Design Award of Honor
Reinventing the Crescent
New Orleans

Architecture Award of Honor
The Rebuild Center
New Orleans
Wayne Troyer Architecture

Residential Award of Honor
Lowerline Street Residence
New Orleans
Bild Design

Projects Award of Honor
Make It Right House
New Orleans

Interior Architecture Award of Merit
Gallery Bienvenu
New Orleans
Ledbetter Fullerton Architects

Historic Preservation/ Restoration/ Rehabilitation Award of Merit
The Hammond Train Depot Restorations
Hammond, La.
Holly and Smith Architects, APAC

Architecture Award of Merit
L.I.T.E. (Louisiana Immersive Technology Enterprise)
Lafayette, La.

Projects Award of Merit
NOLA Shotgun LOFThouse
New Orleans
Wayne Troyer Architect