What's He Building In There?

Strange things are afoot on Upperline Street. Dog walkers and stroller jockeys are altering the course of their after-work walks to gawk at the mesmerizing structure arising from a lot in the 900 block. In the beginning, most of us asked, “What is it?” as we watched oddly shaped slabs get poured into forms that looked like cement rowboats. Then the steel framework started going up and now it literally stops traffic. It will be a house, called the J-House, and the novelty of its design is getting people to talk.

Designed by architect Ammar Eloueini, you can follow the project here. The time-lapse video a few tiles down is pretty neat. My knowledge of architecture is confined to distinguishing the basic types of New Orleans housing stock and maybe identifying enough of Frank Lloyd Wright’s greatest hits to win a Jeopardy category. But that is like someone saying they know about Led Zeppelin simply because they recognize Stairway to Heaven. So right now, when asked to describe this in architectural terms, I usually say “the house that looks like a roller coaster."

Here is a look at the final rendering. I can say (with poetic license) that the full frontal shot has a kinetic presence that, if it was networked to an iMac and struck by lightning, it might become sentient, rise up and start walking around like Johnny-5 by way of a Le Corbusier hallucination. If nothing else, it shows that one can get indeed get creatively freaky with the oft-bemoaned shotgun-sized lot.

Personally, I like it and I have sincerely enjoyed watching the project unfold. This was an empty lot beforehand, and as a Katrina-related gas fire destroyed what was there before a case for restoration can’t really be made. If you read the project description on the website, there’s a case for tailoring designs to the unique considerations of building in urban New Orleans (skinny lots and flood zones–although this neighborhood did not flood during Katrina). I like that this is in my neighborhood and I know it will be a point of interest and architectural pilgrimage once it is done. But I wonder if I would feel the same way if I lived right next door.

It got me to wondering about what other locals might think about modern architecture cropping up alongside their homes. Further down Camp Street other modern buildings have gone up in the last few years. While I admire these on their own merits, I do understand when others say the style clashes with the adjacent, traditional homes.

This J House will be a striking example of this phenomenon, though its impact is softened by the fact this block doesn’t have many homes facing Upperline. This is a fairly unobtrusive place for such an impactful structure. I think it is important to note that this lot did not present the possibility of historic restoration. Therefore, rather than building something “new” that “looks old”, it is more honest to build something with passion regardless of its style. What do you think?

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