“That’s how we knew they built it: We saw it on Google Earth,” explains Grover Mouton, Adjunct Associate Professor of Architecture at Tulane University and director of the Tulane Regional Urban Design Center. He and his students have done massive design work for projects half a world away in China. “After we make our presentation, they hire engineers and architects to execute it. That scenic highway near Changxing is totally our design. Pretty amazing!”
Besides those projects in Asia (including whole new towns), he and his students focus on urban design work for nearby communities. “It can give a smaller city a whole new perspective; we do plans and help them make decisions on what to do and how to finance it.” Mandeville now has a children’s park on Lake Pontchartrain, and Gretna will get a newly redesigned area near City Hall and downtown. “We can help write design guidelines for all new projects, and we work with community and citizens’ groups.”
Tulane’s involvement with the community has evolved. Carol Reese, Favrot Professor of Architecture, teaches architectural history, a field in which students are required to take two courses. When she first arrived 17 years ago, Grover Mouton and faculty member Gene Cizek, known for a strong interest in historic architecture, provided a local focus for the school.
“After Katrina, Tulane moved more clearly into the community. That has been the exciting change,” she says, giving credit to former Dean Reed Kroloff and current Dean Kenneth Schwartz for sustaining the effort.
Two programs, URBANbuild and Tulane City Center, are the ones that give students a chance to make things happen in their school’s home city.
“My biggest opportunity to contribute to the city was a yearlong experience as a student of the URBANbuild studio,” says Daisy Dodge, a 2015 graduate. URBANbuild started in the summer of 2005, with the aim of having students design and build affordable housing in struggling New Orleans neighborhoods. After Hurricane Katrina, the program assumed new importance as the city and its citizens painfully recovered.
“In the fall semester we designed a house in the studio that would actually be built.” Dodge says. “They told us there was a lot waiting for us in Central City and we had to design a three bedroom, two bath house with 1,200 square feet of space.”
“Then, in the spring semester, we built the house! We dug the trenches and built it from the foundation up,” she says proudly. (You can see the house, URBANbuild 10, at TulaneUrbanBuild.com/index2.php#/gallery_sec/1/)
Dodge also was a student intern at the school’s Tulane City Center studio course, which partners with nonprofits and local communities so the students help design and build smaller scale projects. “Tulane’s community engagement work is one of its selling points – there is so much work to be done here, and it’s an opportunity you don’t get at other schools,” Dodge says.
City Center’s work includes the Grow Dat Youth Farm at City Park, which provides work for local teens in a design award-winning structure. Recently, City Center partnered with the Lower 9th Ward Center for Sustainable Research and Development (CSED) on Florida Avenue near Caffin Avenue to create a learning center, where a pavilion with a landscaped space will host educational programming.
Dodge, as an architect beginning her career (in New Orleans at the firm of Chase Marshall), is ready to put her professional training to work. Tulane’s School of Architecture started out in 1907 as part of the College of Technology, with the Engineering Schools. In a 2006 interview, architect Albert Ledner recalled that when he enrolled in the early 1940s, “We got a good dose of engineering.”
Today, Dodge spends a lot of time at the computer. “There’s a lot of REVIT and CAD,” she says, citing two popular program groups.
Coupled with technical skills, architecture schools traditionally require a talent for drawing. Current students work with computer design programs, but, as Reese notes, faculty members like Errol Barron. Professor of Architecture, “insist that our students do learn how to draw. I think no really successful architect would imagine that she doesn’t need to know how to draw.”
“You’re still drawing, you’re just using different tools,” Dodge says.
And, those are the tools that will keep building and re-building New Orleans.