Top Design

Our annual picks of the best new architecture
St. Bernard Cultural Arts & Community Center

This year, although there were some fine residential projects, we’re highlighting five excellent institutional buildings. Two are associated with universities, long a force for contemporary design. Two are buildings funded by the state, one a building of innovative program downtown and the other is found in our outstanding City Park. The final project was initiated by neighboring St. Bernard Parish. They all continue the trend in greater New Orleans post-Hurricane Katrina to build with an eye toward the future while respecting our illustrious architectural heritage. They are all demonstrative of principles of sustainable design as well, a new and old concept of importance here.

St. Bernard Cultural Arts & Community Center

A major new building complex has arisen in Chalmette on Judge Perez Drive across from Chalmette High School. The project combines two auditoriums for the performing arts with public and school library functions. Architecturally, it makes a bold statement and has a powerful presence in its suburban location. The massing combines a sinuous, linear two-story bar that accommodates most of the program with an organic, almost egg-shaped mass that encloses the main theater volume. From Judge Perez Drive it’s the linear building that’s immediately apparent with a well-defined elevated corner of framed curtain wall. As one turns along Palmisano Street, the strongly reflective metal panels of the auditorium skin become dominant. The metal panel cladding is exceptionally attractive. The small panels catch the light in a way that both reflects the sky and emphasizes the sculptural mass. The small projections of the panel edges insure that they are watertight and planar, but also produce a constantly changing shadow pattern. The curved form plays against the regularity elsewhere in the project to produce a great liveliness whether seen from close or far away. There are other elements that animate the exterior as well; of particular interest are the panels along the exterior bridge that connects to the adjacent school.

Logically, the lobby is positioned between the two major masses, entered from a generous colonnade along Palmisano. The colonnade sports sail-like shading elements along its southeast-facing length. Inside, the organization is clear, but the non-orthogonal plan lends a dynamic aspect to the space. The main auditorium is well-proportioned and decked out with all the accoutrements of contemporary stagecraft. The smaller hall is also successful and has the added advantage of daylight.

Another fine space in the complex is the second-floor library. Beautifully proportioned and detailed, with nice daylight, the space has an internal coherence that’s admirable, as well as a strong connection with the boulevard beyond. It is a fitting architectural culmination to a new landmark for St. Bernard Parish.

Waggonner & Ball Architect; David Waggonner, principal-in-charge; Charles Sterkx, Brian Swanner, Sarah Weinkauf, project architects; Mac Ball, Kuan Lo, Dennis Horchoff, Allen Tufts, John Kleinschmidt, Trinh Vu, Stephanie Morrison, Emily Rogers

City Park Administration Building

Almost hidden just south of Interstate 610 and the railroad tracks is a fine new building in City Park. It replaces a building of the same use that was ruined by the post-Hurricane Katrina flooding. This is a linear building with a multiplicity of roof pitches, and it has the characteristics of a lodge, both within and without. The primary exterior materials are painted siding and brick. The brick color palette recalls the historic WPA brick buildings of the Botanical Garden nearby. The exposed steel columns and beams recall the heavy timber framing of yesteryear, while providing a contemporary cast. The roof hangs over to the south, shading a generous front porch that looks out on the parkscape.

After negotiating a beautifully choreographed entry sequence, one arrives inside the lobby. It is a dramatic full-height space with Brazilian cherry paneling and exposed wood ceiling decking. Natural light abounds. To the west side are offices that provide easy access for interaction with the public. On the east are two stories of perimeter offices surrounding a central core. Although the floor plans of both levels are similar, it’s striking how different the spaces feel. This is because, on the second level, the ceilings extend up to the underside of the undulating roof, creating specificity and variety at the same time. The daylight is great throughout the building, due to its clear, low-emissivity glass; and there are many operable windows, offering the opportunity for natural ventilation.

The site has been planned to manage water to the greatest extent possible. There are catchment areas for roof run-off beyond both ends of the building, and there’s pervious paving for the entire parking area that allows water to filter through to a gravel bed underneath. Overall, this is a commodious, comfortable structure, highly appropriate to its setting.

Waggonner & Ball Architects; Mac Ball, principal-in-charge; Steven Scollo, project architect; David Waggonner, Dennis Horchoff, Allen Tufts, Charles Sterkx, Stephanie Morrison, John Kleinschmidt, William Marshall

New Orleans BioInnovation Center

The BioInnovation Center (NOBIC) brings a new contemporary presence to upper Canal Street, a harbinger of new development in this part of the city. It was constructed on a Louisiana State University-owned brownfield site next to the great Midcentury Modern Texaco Building, soon to be renovated for senior housing. In fact, Eskew+Dumez+Ripple’s new building is related to Texaco by more than proximity, says project architect Jose Alverez, picking up proportions and even colors from its neighbor. NOBIC’s Canal Street facade is covered with louvers, a typical New Orleans device to control sun since the late 18th century; the effective shading provided by these louvers is virtually identical to the familiar louvered shutters that abound locally. However, here the louvers are innovative in deployment, with a seemingly random horizontal pattern and varying texture across the facade. They even frame views to and from the stacked exterior balconies on levels two, three and four. Behind the louvers is a transparent curtain wall of low-emissivity glass, an important new technology embraced by all of this year’s projects. The glass combines high light transmission with an invisible coating that acts as a mirror to heat, and provides great daylight to the offices and conference spaces looking out to the street.

Inside the building is more evidence of innovation. There is a wonderful courtyard that the building wraps. On the first floor a large transparent meeting room provides street views with some visual connection to this courtyard. Of course, the courtyard is a very important element of traditional New Orleans architecture; but here it also serves as a working element that highlights the use of water. There is a water garden that provides groundwater recharge, and water captured by the building is stored below the courtyard and the rear parking lot until it can be absorbed. Even the condensation from the heating and cooling system is circulated through the courtyard water system, flowing into a small constructed wetland.

The building’s labs are well-proportioned and lit by the sun during the day. They relate to double-height spaces bordering the vertical circulation system and overlooking the court. Wood warms the interiors; both poplar and pecan are used to good effect. However, it’s the generosity of the public spaces that may induce the informal associations so that the word “incubator,” often used in describing the project, becomes a reality.

Eskew+Dumez+Ripple; Mark Ripple, Steve Dumez principals-in-charge; Jose Alverez, Cynthia Dubberley, project architects; Jessica Stumpf, project manager; Dru Lamb, Mark Reynolds, Bob Kleinpeter, Z Smith, Rick Dupont

Hertz Center, Tulane University

A fine new building graces Ben Weiner Drive between Turchin Stadium and the Reily Center on Tulane University’s Uptown campus. A design collaboration by Gould Evans of Kansas City, Mo., with local architect Lee Ledbetter & Associates, it’s a coherent, inviting facility that belies a seemingly mundane program. The Hertz Center is home for practice facilities for the university men’s and women’s basketball teams and the women’s volleyball team. It contains two full-sized basketball courts within a large space that gets lots of daylight. Surrounding this big space are training rooms and lockers on the ground floor, while a media room and coaches’ areas are located above.

The exterior skin covers this rather simple box, but in an interesting and somewhat unusual way. It consists of an echelon profile metal screen that wraps the second floor above a brick base. Within this wrapper are openings that allow filtered light to enter the interior. On the lake side is a glazed wall for the upper level offices with well-proportioned openings. The base of the building is brick, a welcome relief from the ubiquitous split-faced concrete block that dominated this section of the campus beginning in the 1980s. Architect Lee Ledbetter notes that the prominent sloped soffit above the entry was generated by the sloped seating of the media room above.
However, it’s the interior of the building that’s most interesting, perhaps even inspiring for the student-athletes, coaches and staff. Comments such as “awesome,” “fantastic,” and “more effective for coaching” were easy to elicit from folks inside during a walkthrough. The second-floor gallery corridor – that someday might provide special access to a new on-campus football stadium – is particularly well-designed. With oblique walls bearing displays of past prowess on one side, a trophy wall edging the glass-faced coach’s office suites on the other and a great north-facing clerestory above, this is where architecture meets memory in a way that distinguishes both.

Gould Evans Architects; Tony Rohr, national managing principal; John Wilkins, project principal; Robert Riccardi, design architect; Scott Klaus and Michael Monceaux, project architects; Lee Ledbetter & Associates; Lee Ledbetter, principal; Curtis Laub, project architect; Tarra Cotterman

Dillard University Student Union

A striking new building faces Gentilly Avenue across the duck pond that’s the historic remnant of the Gentilly Bayou. With its long white cylindrical columns, blue glass curtain wall and trellised terrace on the top floor, this is a building with monumentality appropriate to its prominent site and the nationally recognized stature of Dillard University. The building utilizes the familiar mix of architectural elements that are characteristic of both old and new buildings on the campus. It takes its cues most strongly from Max Bond’s wonderful DUICEF (the university’s International Center for Economic Freedom) across campus, previously profiled in this series.
The new student union was designed by Campo Architects, and it incorporates a mix of uses. Interestingly, a community outreach clinic is planned, serving the local neighborhood as well as the campus; it will eventually occupy much of the first floor. The front porch and upper level terraces add energy to the front facade, and a roof trellis completes the ensemble.

Inside, the highlight is a triple-height lobby with a generous steel stair, and beautifully stained yellow concrete floor. The lobby has excellent daylight from two sides and the top. At the third floor it connects visually to a fitness center and perimeter running track. When the interior build-out is complete, this facility will provide major new amenities for Dillard’s students, administrators and staff and neighbors.

Campo Architects; John T. Campo, Jr., principal-in-charge; Miriam Salas, studio director/project manager; Eric Wismar, project architect; Michael Ballard, Brent Savoie, Amy Zeringue Finklea, intern architects

John P. Klingman is a registered architect who holds the Koch Chair in Architecture at Tulane University. His book, New in New Orleans Architecture, featuring 80 outstanding projects from the past 15 years, from Pelican Publishing Co., is available at local bookstores this month.

Categories: Theatre + Art