New New Orleans Architecture
6 buildings among the best
2013 marked another fine year for contemporary buildings in Greater New Orleans. Of particular note were over a half-dozen new school buildings that have been completed, two of which we’re showcasing. There are also two fine religious structures, a childcare Head Start facility and a remarkable adaptive reuse project.
Patrick F. Taylor Science and Technology Academy
Located in rural Avondale on the West Bank, a dramatic new building has arisen in the open landscape. It is the Patrick F. Taylor Science and Technology Academy, a school that engages students in a college preparatory curriculum focused on science, technology, mathematics and engineering. The building was designed to provide inspiration to the curricular agenda, and it succeeds. From the outside, the front facade is a bit stagey, with canted second floor walls overlooking the parking area. There is a generous sculptural metal canopy, punctuated by skylights, a dynamic invitation extending to the main entrance.
Once inside, the school unfolds in a very clear, expansive fashion. The entry lobby forms the middle of a double height circulation space that runs the full length of the building. A mezzanine looks down upon the ground level, providing visual access to a platform in the open “commons,” where school-wide meetings and events can occur, as opposed to the more typical gymnasium or auditorium spaces of assembly. Nearby are the library and a monumental stair connecting the two primary levels. At the other end of the spine is the bright, open cafeteria with an outdoor terrace. Adjacent are a series of well-equipped lab spaces on the second floor.
Plugging into the circulation space are three two-story “pods” that contain the classrooms. The pods, named for famous scientists selected by student vote, hold the classrooms – and more. Differentiating this institution from the more typical high school are the many groupings of informal furniture in the pods and throughout the building. These are utilized by the students working individually or in groups with their laptops, pursuing subjects with independence in an environment more typical of a university. The building exudes a raw energy from the aggressive forms, the almost primitive exposed concrete and the visible mechanical system elements. Perhaps the building’s most important lesson is that the seemingly abstract world of science and technology are intimately engaged with the creation of our inhabited world.
Joint Venture; Perez, APC; Angela O’Byrne principal-in-charge; Christian Pazos, architectural design and project manager; Verges Rome Architects; Chip Verges, principal in-charge; Michael Roussel, project manager; David Stephens, programming; Concordia Architects, initial concept; David Dempsey, Ian Dreyer, Jonathan O’Rear, Joe Crowley, Robert Brownfield, Sam Blimling Stephen Braquet, architects; Ashley Heitzman, Emmanuel Edwards, Jenn Lilos, Jesse Stephenson, Josh Mings, Lukas Kaplan, Qiana Oden, Richard Quelch, Rodney Dionisio, Victoria Yee, architectural design; Ingrid Adrianza, Katie Logan Kris Lowry, interior design; Brandon Adams, Charlotte Cox, site design
Along the river in Bywater is an active three-story building that is a completely transformed industrial structure now serving as the headquarters for Turn Services. The complex, originally a two building molasses factory, had been empty and derelict for decades. An earlier attempt at renovation demonstrated the potential for reinhabitation. Turn Services, a barge fleeting company, became intrigued with moving their offices to a location where their activities on the river would actually be visible. They hired WDG Architects, who oversaw the complex project.
Only the basic steel structure and two brick endwalls could be reused. Everything else is new, yet the project has a consistency of architectural attitude that’s highly evident, particularly on the interior. The idea was to maintain and enhance the industrial aesthetic around which the building was originally designed. Emblematic of this is the treatment of the bridge connecting the two buildings. It originally allowed carts of molasses to move on rails across the space between the buildings. The architects maintained the rails, now flush with the new finished floor surface but maintaining the historic artifact and the memory of original use. Similarly, the structure is exposed on the interior, as are the new systems that provide 21st-century comfort and convenience. The metal-and-glass partition system is open at the top so that a sense of activity can be felt throughout the building, and the great amount of interior glass allows everyone visual access to the river throughout the day.
WDG | Architects Engineers; Jeffrey Stolier, design director; Andres Johnson, Kristine Kobila, architects
Brother Martin High School Chapel
The campus of Brother Martin has been enhanced with a new chapel strategically located on the school’s main quad. The latest in a series of transformative projects for Brother Martin by Waggonner and Ball Architects, the building has a solid, almost geological exterior effect, marked by the introduction of exterior stone panels not seen elsewhere on the campus. Its glazed entry faces and reflects the lobby of the recent Science and Mathematics Building. Although the chapel has an exterior with its own presence, particularly enhanced by the designed wetlands surrounding it on the sides, it’s the interior that’s most memorable.
Not surprisingly, it’s bilaterally symmetrical, but the interior is dynamic, drawing you in. The sequence begins with a pair of beautifully designed doors into the sanctuary. They are tall, fashioned from a rich, dark hardwood and paneled, including vertical strips of translucency. Within the space daylight is carefully balanced. Ambient light enters through a slot in the roof, redirected onto the ceiling by a metal mesh shroud. Sunlight enters from the sides, but thick walls act as light reflectors, controlling the glare as the position of the sun changes throughout the day. The focus of the space is the reredos, a chancel screen of wood with small glazed elements. Its pattern of 12 openings is complex, providing an appropriate vertical focus for the space. Backlit, the strong contrast provides a final example of light-induced mystery. The simplicity of the building is redolent of the character of the school.
Waggonner and Ball Architects; David Waggonner, principal-in-charge, Mac Ball, Kwan-Yi Lo, Allen Tufts, Charles Sterkx, Dennis Horchoff, David Curtis
Jefferson Presbyterian Church
There is a new small, unobtrusive building along Jefferson Highway on the riverside near Causeway. From the thoroughfare, you might notice a stark white walled box with the name of the church on its surface. Behind is a larger orange box with a big window, perhaps not easily recognizable as high quality contemporary architecture. However, the architectural intension becomes immediately apparent from the entry side around the block, where the forecourt reveals a reversal and the white box opens and frames an orange wall with the simple, elegant entry.
The interior holds surprise and delight. This is an axial plan, common in church design, but its simple organization is complemented by a dynamic, tactile volume. The dominant element is a cypress slat structure that emanates from the sides of the space and extends upward to reveal a curved fish-shaped ceiling plane. Light enters copiously from a north-facing clerestory that’s balanced by sidelights at the entry doors from the narthex. The ceiling slopes gently upward toward the altar, which holds a crucifix important to the congregation. It is the only artifact from the previous building, which was destroyed by a fire from lightning. Behind the metal cross is a complex surface of small hexagonal white marble tiles that catch and reflect light compellingly. A combination of serenity and energy is difficult to achieve, but here they’re fused together through a dexterous combination of materials and light.
Studio WTA; Wayne Troyer, principal; Julie A. Babin, project architect; Ross Karsen, architect, Sadi Brewton
James Singleton Head Start Center
Here is a contemporary building designed for the very young and the staff who nurture them. Total Community Action was the client, and they were interested in a contemporary building treatment appropriate to the mid-20th century neighborhood of Little Woods in eastern New Orleans. Trapolin-Peer Architects has engaged this building type at Kingsley House, but designing a freestanding building on an open site presented new opportunities.
Residentially scaled when approached from the street, the building morphs into a series of elegant classroom pavilions on the garden side, perhaps helping the children learn to count to eight as well as to identify the room that’s “theirs.” The classrooms are north facing, toward Lake Pontchartrain a few blocks away. Each has a porch, framed beautifully by sidewalls and a parapet, forming a protective enclosure. The porches are linked together, and they look out onto a wonderful play area with mature live oaks that provide shade and a sculptural presence in the landscape. The classrooms are designed for flexibility so that the staff and children can utilize the rooms creatively and with differing configurations throughout the day. The children’s work, taped to the glass walls of the garden façade, provides evidence of the lively spirit within.
Trapolin-Peer Architects; Peter Trapolin, principal; Daniel Zangara, project architect; Ashley King, project manager
Akili Academy of New Orleans at the William Frantz School
There is an abundance of new school construction throughout New Orleans generated by the Recovery School District and their multinational consort, Jacobs Engineering. Typically, they’re large new buildings on very small sites. While true in this case, this project differs strikingly from the norm, in that the new structure expands a 1937 building. The William Frantz School is listed on the National Register of Historic Places because of its importance during the struggles of the Civil Rights era. The new building and the beautifully restored older structure complement each other architecturally, both inside and out in a striking manner. The restored traditional local St. Joe brick façades play off the contemporary palette of metal panels and glass, particularly in conjunction with a finely detailed aluminum sunscreen system. Together, the buildings participate in forming a U-shaped, well-proportioned courtyard, which is accessible to the students from the cafeteria and the gymnasium above.
Inside daylight abounds, both in the new structure that contains all of the school’s special program spaces and in the historic building with all of the elementary grade classrooms. The architects introduced interior lightshelves into the restored classrooms and utilized high performance glazing in the new building. Along the courtyard edge, an all-glass hallway on three levels offers shaded daylight and a fine view of the activity below and the neighborhood beyond. The walls of the rooms on the other side of the hallway are angled slightly to introduce dynamic interest as the children move between the historic and the 21st-century structure. The gymnasium is lit with large clerestory lighting all around, and there’s also a double-height black box performance space, that can also be opened to the view when complete lighting control isn’t necessary. This is a building that truly celebrates its past while supporting aspirations toward the future.
Billes Partners; Gerald W. Billes, CEO, principal; Richard S. Kravet, principal-in-charge, Ian C. Welcome, project manager; Elena Soto Jervis, interior design; William Petersen, Patrick Kraft, Erin Porter, Senait Kassa, Lauren Flanagan, Steve C. Tubre, Lauren Hickman, Rachel Chotin-Lincoln, Gabriel Mitchell, designers
John P. Klingman is a registered architect and holds a Favrot Professorship in Architecture at Tulane University. His 2012 book, New in New Orleans Architecture, featuring 80 outstanding projects from the past 15 years, from Pelican Publishing Co., is available at local bookstores. His most recent design project, the shelter at the terminus of the St. Charles Streetcar Line, was completed in 2013.