Land Use

New architecture in an old city: Is resurgent New Orleans losing its soul?

A rendering shows a portion of the South Market District development in the Central Business District.

Kim Wendell Design

A rendering shows a portion of the South Market District development in the Central Business District.

The major developments proposed along the riverfront in Holy Cross and in the so-called South Market District off the Loyola Avenue streetcar extension have one thing in common: terrible architecture.

Despite the involvement of prestigious architectural firms and hundreds of millions of investment dollars, the proposed developments look cheap, generic, and totally out-of-keeping with the historic styles of their neighborhoods. In a mesmerizingly beautiful city dependent on architectural tourism, this is worrisome. Building thoughtless structures and shunning the local pattern book of styles steadily diminishes the unique feel of the city, no matter how ardently we fight to preserve older buildings.

The projects’ aesthetic crimes are typical of architecture motivated by financial rather than artistic or humanistic values. Both follow the dead-end modern design precept that the arrangement and rearrangement of boxes is the consummation of human creativity.

In the four-block, $200 million South Market District development, each of the proposed structures is a cube, livened up with exactly one small differentiating touch: a cube with a column, a cube with a slice cut from it, a cube with some windows slightly different in size than others (plus the inevitable bright orange sculptural scribble out front). To make matters worse, gray is the color of the day, not the pastels and earthy cobblestone-browns that predominate in the CBD above Poydras.

The Holy Cross renderings are less detailed, but they also show the hand of shipping-container chic. Like a more banal version of the nearby Make It Right homes, which are at least eye-catching, the stark geometric forms proposed in Holy Cross clash with our garden-like city, rather than blending in.

Bad designs come from bad design philosophies, and the philosophy behind the South Market District development is dangerously bad. In its statement of principles, the Eskew+Dumez+Ripple architecture firm boasts that “[o]ur work prioritizes the experience of a place over formal aesthetic concerns.” Look beyond the jargon and what you’ve got is an open defense of ugliness, a mantra that also ignores the extent to which we experience places aesthetically.

Think of walking into Grand Central Station, or St. Paul’s Cathedral. Think of nearly every inch of our own city. The aesthetics of places cannot be separated from the experiences people have in them.

EDR disavows historically-grounded architecture, saying that “mimicking” centuries-old techniques is misguided, because architecture must “be representative of the particular time in which it was built.” This is a shopworn rationale for following the herd. Architect Mac Ball, in deciding that the Sophie B. Wright Charter School’s new gymnasium would not be built in keeping with the rest of the school’s style, also argued that additions to historical buildings should reflect the time in which they are added.

Intellectually empty and logically circular, it amounts to saying that “we must build in the style of the era because it is the style that people of the era build in.”  But styles are contemporary only because architects make them so. If Mac Ball’s gym doesn’t reflect the flavor of our city, or the South, or the school, and disrupts the feel of the city, nothing prevents him from designing something that does.

New Orleans’s aura and allure doesn’t lie in a collection of individual buildings. It’s a cohesive quilt of character and beauty — a tout ensemble, as was realized by the heroes who saved the French Quarter from the wrecking ball. The brick-and-mortar structures are crucial, but more so is the sense of place that the buildings  create by speaking to one another harmoniously.

EDR pays lip service to this philosophy. The firm professes to believe in “weaving new and different threads into the urban fabric.” But would anyone trust an artist claiming that a carefully restored tapestry could use slicing up and modernizing? What if that artist was proudly ignorant of the tapestry’s history and meaning? Should he be let loose with needle and thread? EDR claims to “celebrate local conditions while transcending local convention.” Decoded, this is an endorsement of unimaginative eyesores that don’t fit in.

Does this make me a curmudgeonly anti-modernist, a Prince Charles decrying plans to update Britain’s National Gallery as a “monstrous carbuncle” on the face of an old friend?

No. It’s possible to create architecture that both incorporates historical styles and experiments with new ones.

The new Iberville development has been designed to “evoke the Storyville era.” The renderings have suggested it will look like an updated Vieux Carré, with plenty of shutters and balconies, but airier and more glassy.

Loyola University’s Monroe library, constructed in 1999, similarly echoes the Collegiate Gothic of the surrounding campus while being unmistakably contemporary. And our oft-forgotten postmodern treasure, the Piazza d’Italia, looks both forward and backward as it plays with the cultures of Italy and New Orleans, respectfully reproducing traditions and rearranging them to say something new.

In developing better design standards, simple questions will do. Would ordinary people find this beautiful? Does it seem to fit in with the landscape? Does it follow our established notion of what works here?

These criteria may appear highly subjective, but the architect Christopher Alexander, in The Timeless Way of Building, has made a strong case that they are not. The styles that have stayed with us over time, and that we appreciate, do so because they appeal to universal human qualities. Alexander points out that there’s more to historic architecture than simple nostalgia. For the same reason that Plato and Shakespeare have become classics, we venerate our old buildings not because they are old, but because they are timeless. And there should be no shame in continuing a timeless tradition.

This is not to say that all new places should look like the Garden District (though would that be so bad?) But if proposals like South Market and Holy Cross keep going forward, then no matter how many older buildings we keep standing, New Orleans won’t resemble New Orleans.

Lifeless architecture is also bad for business. The flattening of styles, the creation of a visual monoculture — these may be economically efficient elsewhere. But here, local character is money, and people do not come to New Orleans to see the same buildings that they see everywhere else. Nobody is going to travel from Jackson, let alone Japan, to see the South Market District.

We should insist that large development projects are distinctive and follow New Orleans architectural styles. Aesthetic criteria must be a mandatory part of project approval. There’s a key question the city must ask itself in weighing every proposed development: “Could this be anywhere but New Orleans?” New threads should be added to the urban fabric with the respect and care that would be accorded any great tapestry.

A recent graduate of Yale Law School and a doctoral candidate in sociology and social policy at Harvard University, Nathan Robinson is the author of a children’s book set in New Orleans,  The Man Who Accidentally Wore His Cravat to a Gymnasium.
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  • Peter Duffy Bennett

    It’s important to remember that the South Market buildings are replacing the most ugly and anachronistic thing in its neighborhood: acres and acres of surface parking.

  • nickelndime

    Acres of surface parking was a mistake. Two wrongs don’t make a right (turn). I may be cynical but playful, and anyone who writes children’s books is alright by me. Mr. Robinson has done an excellent job in expressing what many of the New Orleans citizenry has been thinking. The soul of New Orleans is being financed away, building by building, block by block. Propaganda and expensive PR campaigns finally silence the locals in the neighborhoods. When the neighbors are more powerful, have greater financial means, in greater numbers, and organized, sometimes the projects don’t go through. When that happens, a weaker neighborhood is targeted.

  • TraveLAr

    I wouldn’t mind seeing some drawing of Mr. Robinson’s suggested direction for Holy Cross or South Market (SOMA? Taken. NOSOMA?). Pictures help me understand.

  • nickelndime

    Mr. Robinson is the author of a children’s book. Is he an illustrator as well?

  • Joanne Hilton

    The problem is the HDLC and their insistence that anything new look totally new. I persoanally think that is misguided.

  • I agree. Do not replace old warehouses with hideous steel and glass monstrosities. I want to see buildings erected with frieze work and artistic flair, not the garbage being proposed

  • nickelndime

    I can write and illustrate, and I have written a children’s book or two, but I am not a licensed architect. Oh hell, where am I going with this anyway, in a city where credentials do not appear to matter anyway? Look at all of the charter schools in this city. It’s not what you know. It’s who you know. And that may partly explain why this city is in the shape it is in and why there are acres of parking lots in the CBD and why the quickest way to demolish a building is to set it on fire. This is not a joke, and anybody who has lived in this city for st least five years knows that black smoke has nothing to do with a new pope being elected. For one thing, it’s not the right color smoke.

  • Nawlinsguitar

    Don’t worry about these these new buildings,I’ve watched the construction and they won’t be there long. They look very much like some kids tree house…first hurricane….gone. Yay !!

  • Coldbeulah

    There’s no mystery why most people prefer old to new buildings. It has mostly to do with proportion, something all architects surely must be exposed to with the Golden Section in Design 101. We feel better with high ceilings (even if a room is narrow, as in a shotgun), large windows (light is good), we like brick and wood (warm colors?), and curves are usually more pleasing than straight lines and sharp corners (more anthropomorphic). All of these characteristics can be included in new architecture, albeit at a higher cost than gray, generic boxes with slitty windows. Modernist cubes look cheap because they are. The author is absolutely correct, although I can hear the yowls of disgust emanating from the polished concrete desks of architecture firms around the city as I type this.

  • John P. Klingman

    The principle that new buildings can and should relate to their place is a good one. My book, “New in New Orleans Architecture” makes the same argument albeit with greater clarity and better examples See

  • John Wettermark

    What a shock it must have been to Vieux Carre’ residents when original creole structures were razed to make way for massive structures modeled on a Paris complex. The Poltalba buildings certainly were of a style and type the City had not seen before. Then in the early 19th century, Americans flocked to New Orleans; the French thought them Nouveau riche, with many startled at the proliferation of this new style in which their homes were being built to look like Greek temples, wildly dissimilar from the creole townhouses of the Vieux Carre’. Then came the fad of adding more ornament to houses in a new Italianate style, even more of a departure from the original Creole structures. It must have been especially jarring when turreted styles took hold with the complex massing of High-Victorian, further muddling the coherent style of New Orleans. But it wasn’t over: Art deco towers were built in the CBD and French 2nd Empire and Romanesque mansions were built along the avenue. Our City is so rich in architecture because important styles, done well, were welcomed throughout its history. Let’s hope that when our descendants look back to our time they see our valuable contribution to the City’s architectural history which very much has a future.

  • TurkeyMuffin

    it looks like something out of Waco Texas. Or any other conservative, boring, could be anywhere, America office building blah blah blah.

  • RayNichols

    We had a number of proposed developments in the Carrollton/Audubon area 10 year ago. It’s about more than architecture. From the archives:

  • Roland Solinski

    The South Market building shown in the rendering is a pretty faithful copy of traditional warehouse architecture. I don’t really see the problem here. Building in new styles only adds diversity and strength to the architecture of the city.

    Beyond that, larger concerns prevail. Economics may guide the design, but the numbers have to work or we don’t get new housing or other forms of development. Instead, we’d be stuck with vacant lots, while the existing supply of homes continues to gentrify at an even faster pace.

  • TurkeyMuffin

    Yeah but this is just ugly.

  • nickelndime

    That’s part of the problem, “…the numbers have to work or we don’t get…” Who sets the numbers? Who sets the rules? Who says, “We don’t get”? Sometimes, you have to go without before you get what you want or what you need. I don’t see a lot of moral fiber in the individuals who seem to be calling the plays in this city. They are depending on New Orleanians to continue to be disorganized and lazy.

  • Bill Davis

    New Orleans needs to lose it’s soul. The soul that harbors bigotry, discrimination and lacks jobs and education. Welcome to the 21st Century.

  • nickelndime

    Cities don’t lose their “souls,” people do (that’s if the concept of a “soul” is in your belief system). But, I will say this, there is a lot of buying and selling that is going on in this city, and it’s happening in offices, and it involves public money. The cycle of abuse continues. Stepping on other people to get to the top, and then lying and cheating to stay there. Mo’ money, Mo’ money. Fantastic PR campaigns! Expensive legal counsel! Awards and accolades! Bigotry, discrimination, lack of jobs, unequal educational opportunities…Bill’s got it right.

  • Roger Steinbrink

    I must agree. Buildings do, and should have souls. As a fan of architecture in general, and New Orleans architecture in particular, the thought of a another desolate city block being turned into something that resembles just another old row of warehouses is an abysmyl prospect.
    Are today’s architects so driven by cost that the best that they can come up with is another variation on the “box”?
    Is this actually a new “style”? If it is, it needs to die a quick death.
    Although I admire the motives behind Brad Pitt’s ‘Make It Right” foundation, and it’s goals, I cannot say i approve of the “style” of the residences that seemingly were dropped out of a UFO in the Lower Ninth Ward. They would look just fine in Malibu, but c’mon man, this is NOLA! I’m sorry, but to me it looks like a student architect’s vision of the “Home Of The Future”, the kind of thing that one would see at a World’s Fair in the 50’s or 60’s. I was hoping that the tragedy of Katrina and the loss of those homes would be an opportunity to rebuild vernacular homes with new materials, and building science that would allow them to be more energy efficient, and sturdier in the face of the sometimes drastic weather we experience here. What’s worse is that they are not conducive to stoop sitting, a favorite New Orleans pastime.
    The rendering of the South Market project just doesn’t look friendly. I’d like to see more sidewalk space for tables, and chairs. It needs a friendly frieze that would cause me to pause and enjoy it. It says to me either “come in, and get busy or keep moving”, it’s not inviting me to just hang out. We need more of that in this age of people communicating constantly on “devices”, and not with each other.
    Architecture should embrace, and entertain the community; not turn it away, It needs soul….
    – Roger Steinbrink aka “The Architect Of Soul.”

  • nickelndime

    When “cost” alone steers architectural design, how can it (the building) have soul? No man can serve two masters. Besides, in this city of bribes and payoffs, they better damn well try to cut costs somewhere. Hence, the “box” design.

  • RP

    “Borrowing elements” from historic buildings is completely inappropriate and insulting to architects; you can’t copy and paste genus loci, because you’ll end up with Disneyland. Buildings should be representative of their time and technology of the day; historic buildings were “contemporary” structures of their day, after all.

  • you nailed it! perfectly, on all fronts. “Could this be anywhere but New Orleans?” …too often with the cheapest-cost-driven designs developers come up with, the answer is “yes”.

  • actually, no, they werent. many of the CBD structures (old city hq Gallier Hall, for example) borrow on classic greek design and were not contemporary. duh.

    today’s cheap architects do one thing well — cheap buildings. these look like theyre designed for Houston, not New Orleans.

  • funny, New Orleans was one place where free people of color could exist and live harmoniously in the same neighborhoods as non. why would we want to lose that accepting nature?

    we dont have jobs because shipping moved out, and we dont have education because the middleclass taxbase did the same. now we need to attract both industry and taxbase — and Houston-style builds aint gonna do that.

  • pay them and they will come. developers set the tone, architects just respond.

  • all of those examples you cited (except deco) were new buildings using timeless, classic styles — not using cheapest-box-possible style.

    nobody is going to look back at big-box style (walmart, best buy, these new projects, eetc) and espouse their contribution to history. theyll just call it what it is — cost-driven boxism.

  • his credentials do not matter. arguing against the man (and not countering his arguments) is the classic “ad hominem”.

  • one does not have to be a designer himself to say that the HC proposals suck ass and should be rejected. the argument being made here is that quality design matters, and should be part of the review process for new development.

    taking down that argument (perfectly crafted by the author here) should be your goal. trying to instead focus on the author is simply making an ad hominem.

  • agree, but let me say this — my neighborhood stopped Sean Cummings from putting in his big-box on Elysian Fields. we didnt do it because we’re powerful and wealthy (attend our meetings and youll realize the absurdity of that suggestion). as if. we did it by being vocal…in the end it was his own refusal to back down his proposed height to the legal limit that got a “No” from councilwoman palmer. had he said, “Ok, 50 feet it is!” then we’d probably have a god-awful 50′ building.

  • two wrongs dont make a right.

  • they dont. the architects are simply building as big as possible for as little as possible. thats the design ethos of today, and the most utilitarian solution to that is a box. these architects are more or less hired guns and are driven by the developers… who can influence the developers? only the city, only good policy mandating design that matters. thats where we — and this well-crafted argument — come in.

  • nickelndime

    Of course Mr. Robinson does NOT have to be an architect to write an opinion piece about architectual design – and an excellent and well-crafted piece of work it is. Certainly that was never an issue for me. Hell, I critique (tongue in cheek) things all the time, and I am no damn expert in anything. OMAGAWD – my chair is rocking and I am getting ready to roll. Somebody didn’t get their nicotine and caffeine fix this morning and sounds pretty serious to me.

  • nickelndime

    He’s back! Sean Cummings is on his way to Elysian Fields and he says that 50 feet is looking better and better to him. And oh yeah, thanks for that brown-box CVS store that is heading for Elysian Fields near Claiborne Avenue. Where were all of my poor loud friends – just when I needed them most?!

  • TraveLAr

    I was not concerned with taking down anything. I’m just saying graphics, photos, drawings help me understand better. I remember them tearing down the old main library to build the John Hancock building, and thought that was awful. If I had my way every new building would be required to look like Longue View Gardens or the Ursuline Convent. Or maybe the Jerusalem Temple. But look down from the air and all you notice is the Superdome. I’m not any kind of designer or creative person, though. The ugly Holy Cross plan is apparently a done deal, but if I wanted to move it into another direction, which I believe would be a positive development, I think an alternative proposal that people can see would help. Now I called that a drawing, but surely there are other ways to do make proposed images, given that tweets and instagrams and face posts all seem to come with more graphics than words. I don’t believe this is in any way some kind of ad hominem attack on the author, with whom I agree. Just a suggestion that it is good for there to be a carrot somewhere out in front of the stick.

  • Lee Miller

    While I agree in principle, I can’t quite envision what a “CBD-style” would be. Almost by definition, the CBD is a mishmash of competing styles. The Plaza Tower was meant to make that part of the city a new focus of modern architecture and make that entire quadrant of the CBD a home for the avant-gard. Granted, the Plaza Tower failed in that respect, but to me, that’s an example of how that part of the CBD has never been considered to have a “personality” of its own to preserve. Of course, that’s no excuse for bad architecture and bland buildings, and a major architectural project should offer more than square footage, but still, what should a CBD-style encompass?

  • RP

    Gallier Hall was built before the industrial revolution. Stone masons and other hands-on craftsmen worked with technology of their day that was appropriate (165 years ago) to construct the building. As you may not know, government buildings of that era (c. 1840’s, in contrast to 2014 and 165 years of technological advances) “borrowed” from classical architecture for the sake of following suit with the popular Greek revival at the time. In no way is the mindless disposition of a copy-and-paste attitude toward design reflective of society today; the technological advances we have developed in the past 165 years since Gallier (hurricane, flood protections, etc) are in no way advanced by borrowing classical elements of architecture’s past.

  • RP

    ….and you think Greek Revival will?

  • RP

    So according to your previous comments developers and architects are out. Refresh everyone here on exactly what your position is for building in this fine city? And you realize that you can’t afford to reconstruct the Pantheon, by the way.

  • RP

    …show us the money, Kyron. Greek Revival costs multitudes more than the technologically advanced design of contemporary society. (Just to set the record straight, I’m not advocating for the feeble rendering pictured above, incase you’re hopelessly confused here when I mention “contemporary” I am however, against your “paste classical stickers over everything” approach.

  • ABDaigle

    Thank you, thank you, thank you, Nathan!! I watch and cringe when I see our boards and elected officials accept projects without questioning their timelessness, quality and BEAUTY. Yes, beauty! Since when did we cave to ugliness just because it was different and “of its time,” rather than “of its place?” This only means the architect cannot design in context, the builder cannot build as an artisan and the people cannot see inspiration.

    But wait, people can see inspiration in buildings and gorgeous urban places and comment on it every time they visit our great City. It’s why they come and stay and return again. So why cannot we continue this tradition?

    I say let’s get serious about the subject of aesthetics and expect no less than the very, very best, from here forward. We have dozens if not scores of architectural traditions in our city – many completely different from one another – that can work as our unique “pattern language.” You mentioned the New Orleans Pattern Book, but I vote we make the eight volumes of books, “New Orleans Architecture,” our guiding principles for both architecture and urban form and set out on a mission to carry on the uniquely New Orleans tradition of beauty and timelessness! Perhaps this is where “a New Urban Architecture” will be born…

    Bravo again for your courage and truthfulness!

  • ABDaigle

    You are exactly right about the smoke. On being “qualified” – Anyone who appreciates beauty is qualified to comment. How about developing an easy way for people to vote for proposed designs? (One vote only with space for commentary about WHY a design is appealing or not.) An Ap for that? 😉

  • ABDaigle

    Hi, John, I was just sharing your article on living without air conditioning and your book with a TradArch list serve yesterday.

  • Comrade Wingtardd

    Yes, it must have been delightful to actually look forward to new architectural styles, instead of recoiling in horror at every movement.

  • ABDaigle

    Agree with the oner commenters. This is the very first time in history that what is replacing what came before is truly of poor quality, questionable construction and definitely uglier. No hands down.

  • ABDaigle

    I think the point is that the style is not as important as the good design and construction quality. We have awesome precedents that could inform a “new urban architecture.” If we cannot be inspired in NOLA to do awesome architecture, where else can we?

  • Michael David Rouchell

    A decent Greek Revival building can be built for about the third of the cost of the average Frank Gehry designed building, and it will last longer.

  • KC

    So should we tear down the majority of the warehouse district? This building looks just like many of the former warehouses a few blocks away.

  • RP

    …who said anything about Frank Gehry? He’s just as unnecessarily superfluous as Greek Revival of yore. Contemporary society is better than that.

  • This is the philosophy I take issue with. I think it is simply dogma, built on sand. Architects CONSTANTLY (and very angrily) repeat it as if it’s some kind of “truth,” but it’s a totally arbitrary assertion. It doesn’t go any deeper than “old styles should not be used because they’re old.” As I say in the piece, it’s circular. “We must build in the styles of today because those are the styles we build in today. We must not build in yesterday’s styles because they are yesterday’s.” It sounds good, but it’s empty sloganeering. First, who says that it is the job of architects merely to “represent” the present? From where is that mandate handed down? Architects create the present through their work, they do not merely “reflect” something that already exists. Everything architects design is a normative assertion of what the present ought to be, and they should not delude themselves into believing they are merely passive. (I actually think the other position is more “insulting” to architects. I see architects as free to play with all the ways of building of all times, and to put forward a vision of what is best; the contemporary view sees them as merely interpreting a Spirit of the Age that they are not permitted to tamper with or question.)

    Next, what principle means that yesterday’s styles can never be deployed today? If you want a test of an architect’s reflexes, see how quickly he says “Disneyland” when you mention historic styles. But the reason Disneyland is false and horrible is NOT that it uses styles from the past, but because it intends solely to replicate a thin and superficial version of those things. But that’s not an argument for never building that way, that’s an argument for doing it well, and not creating a cheap simulation. I think the difference can be seen in the new Poundbury village in England. (see: )There, traditional materials are used for authenticity, green technologies are employed, and styles are not strictly imitated, to keep them from appearing affected. Of course, someone let Prince Charles design the town’s fire station (seriously!) and it ended up looking exactly like Disneyland. Why? Because he doesn’t understand the crucial difference between lazy nostalgic pastiche and faithful, respectful reinterpretation. There are many different ways to use the past, and not all of them are kitsch. To see how ludicrous it would be to think that every work that draws from traditions in its field is necessarily derivative, just imagine if the same logic were applied to literature or music! Salvador Dalí used to paint like an Old Master, but nobody accused him of backwardness.

    Your response below both completely sidesteps kyron’s point (even as you condescendingly deploy “As you may not know”!) and falls into the same circularity trap. First, as kyron says, the idea that architecture cannot draw on and play with elements of previous times is a delusion unique to the present, since the times before were littered with Revivals. Apparently, the existence of new technology is supposed to now foreclose this possibility forevermore. This technology point appears particularly wrongheaded to me. It seems to mean that our technology must determine every element of our aesthetics, which I just don’t see a reason for. I also don’t see why the necessity to reflect technological improvements in designs for some things (like hospitals) should mean that all structures need to reflect all advances (houses should be energy efficient, but they could still have elaborate ironwork.)

    Next, if I’m not reading you wrong, you basically say that “Gallier Hall is okay because it’s part of a Greek Revival, so it reflects the Absolute Truth that buildings must reflect their times.” To which the response would be, “Well, what if hypothetically we had another Greek Revival? Wouldn’t that change our times and then make it acceptable to build that way again? What’s the tipping point of the number of inappropriate buildings we have to build before they become the zeitgeist and thereby suddenly become appropriate?” “Well, you can’t have another Greek Revival, because technology has changed.” “Well, technology had changed between 500 BC and 1845, why was it okay in 1845?” “Because they used authentic techniques.” “But what if WE use authentic techniques?” “You can’t, because technology has changed.” “Okay, but do we have to use all the available technology all the time, on every building?” “Yes. We must press forward no matter how much everyone hates it. If you want flood protection you must sacrifice decorative masonry. Disneyland, Disneyland, etc.” I just cannot for the life of me understand this kind of thinking.

    PS Gallier Hall was built after the Industrial Revolution, not before.

  • Oh god somebody needs to stop that guy. Does he not realize that he probably might have gotten the height exemption if he’d made it beautiful and in keeping with historic styles? It’s amazing just how stubbornly they hold fast to the shipping container buildings.

  • Tom Pleasant

    Thank you! This the most accurate perspective on the architectural legacy of New Orleans!

  • Joe Adams

    New Orleans is a charm fest of cookie cutter, pattern book, “decorated
    boxes”. Our town is a pillar of romance,
    sentiment, and nostalgia (It a’int there no more). Please
    name a couple of architecturally significant buildings (that is architecture
    that has inspired or influenced architecture elsewhere) in Orleans Parish.

  • The Racket

    This isn’t the only building. Look at all of the renderings they provide (not just one), for the entire development. And yes, none of it is old provincial New Orleans – thank god. There’s no shortage, we’ll all be fine. Think, at one time, all of the architecture you view as old, was once new and uncomfortable just the same.

    Overall, this development is a breath of fresh air. The author showed only the least attractive building, that when seen in context of the development as a whole, helps tell the story (the building above in particular is similar to old Chicago style architecture…nothing horrific). Others are stunning, modern, and a welcome departure.

    Unfortunately for the naysayers, there are loads of new bloods moving to this city with the goal of bringing New Orleans up to speed, so that as a whole it can succeed (and be preserved). Everyone needs to relax – we’ll still have our dicey, dangerous neighborhoods, the music isn’t going anywhere, and neither is the soul or the culture or the tourism. At worst, the city will continue to succeed, and the music will have a larger audience and more residents will be a bigger megaphone for the culture of New Orleans.

    EDR is spot on. Architecture is a marker in time. This development (to me) is a good marker that this city has turned the corner—from a narrow, provincial, self-destructive, protectionist mindset—to a fresh, open, progressive point of view that can serve all of our wonderful residents both old locals and new from other cities; bringing new life and ideas to this town.

  • The Racket

    Yes. This is correct. What everyone else wants is “old style”. Style being the key word. Styles change. It’s called PROGRESS. Unfortunately, most people here are progress averse.

  • The Racket

    Doesn’t exist. Good point.

  • The Racket

    You’re spot on.

  • The Racket

    Yeah. Stop the guy who’s proposing the modern building that will bring in progressive, higher-earning, higher-educated, modern people into the city. You know, the ones who don’t have a provincial, narrow-minded view…the kind of narrow view that refuses to progress, and eventually slides cities like New Orleans into the gutter it was in?

    Sure. Stop that guy.

  • The Racket

    I suppose the first thing to understand is—New Orleans wasn’t built on safe, fearful, provincial mindsets. This city became great because it was the epicenter of progress, growth and vision.

    This matters because new residents or potential residents are coming from cities that have overcome the exact argument you’re trying to make, so it’s familiar to them to see a modern building in an old neighborhood…and familiarity is a large factor in moving to this city from elsewhere (willing to pay a premium for said modern loft space in a fabulous old neighborhood). These are the realities of today, and more importantly, the reality of New Orleans if its to succeed long-term.

    But let’s be honest—San Francisco is still very San Francisco…New York is still very, very New York. Or better yet, look at Paris, Barcelona—all cities with far deeper, older, more distinct architectural histories (that New Orleans had borrowed from), yet they’ve progressed architecturally without losing the core of their identities. More importantly, by embracing vast architectural styles, these cities appeal to a broad audience while retaining their core character—just as New Orleans can.

    In all, I hear this argument a lot here in the city, and I appreciate those who simply want to maintain status-quo. But status-quo broke this city, and the truth is that there are people moving here every day with ideas on how to keep momentum so it doesn’t break again.

    The argument for monotony—more of the same, only heavily contrived for 2014…It isn’t an accurate reflection of modern society or the opportunities New Orleans is offering to people in other cities.

  • The Racket

    The more I read all of the comments here, the more it appears that architecture is not the argument—it’s more about mindset regarding evolution of the city…using the maintenance of architectural style as a proxy for fear of change. South Market is providing retail and residential for residents that want that kind of residential and retail. The demand is there…that place isn’t being built on a hunch. So to ignore the demand is to ignore fellow residents who appreciate New Orleans as much as you do, but also happen appreciate other things…other styles, other living situations, other retail conveniences. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve talked to that have said that 930 Poydras was the indicator that New Orleans was ready to become a progressive city. Not that it’s perfect in all its Deathstar glory, but it’s proved a very valuable point that transcends style…and proves that architecture is indeed a marker for how a city views itself.

    And hey…I get it…I live in a very old house, in an old neighborhood and it’s exactly why I live here. But the reality is this—I also really like other things. I like modern architecture. I don’t have a problem with Rem Koolhaas’ perspective, nor am I averse to Italo Calvino’s picturesque writings. It’s all valuable insight.

    Look at it another way. If New Orleans opens itself up architecturally, I think we’ll invite some truly great architectural minds to create distinct works in our city that will only further our architectural value. If we don’t, we’ll be stuck with regional posers, doing their best interpretations…which won’t count for much at all.

    And if my neighbor wants to build a magnificently modern glass house—as long as it’s done right, I can’t say I care. I don’t mind tension. It would be that one-thousand and third magnificent thing I get to look at in this city.

  • Guest

    First, I don’t know where I said I wanted dicey neighborhoods, or that I thought music was under threat. I really don’t see how those things are related at all. Music in the city is in a real golden age. I’m critiquing a tendency among contemporary architects to believe that all historic local building styles must necessarily be discarded. That critique doesn’t say anything about economic progress. As I say in the piece, I’m a believer in bringing people into the city, and I think distinctive architecture is a factor in doing that. The sense of not being “generic” is a major economic asset to the city.

    I think you fall into the same pattern of argument that I critique. All things labeled as progress are good, all things labeled tradition are reactionary and bad. First, it sets up a black-and-white distinction between those who are Backward and those who are Forward-Looking. I think that binary is false. I think many parts of traditions are worth preserving and nurturing, and many are worth discarding. The idea of saying “We did that yesterday, so it’s bad” is a non sequitur. As I said in the piece, to me the best architecture draws from those things that surround it, plays with them a bit, updates them but with respect. The same goes for local/global. There are many positive aspects to globalization, such as the improvement of standards, development, cross-cultural communication; there are some drawbacks, such as a tendency for things to become blandly corporatized, centrally-controlled, and samey. But it’s not just “provincials” versus humanists.

    Next, not only does the label of “progress/reaction” seem false, but I don’t actually think the set of things you believe to be progress hold together as a coherent unit. Supposedly there’s some zeitgeist, something that is the Times that a building should “reflect”. But I don’t trust zeitgeists. I think they’re easy to invent and then resign oneself to. I think we make our own times, and we can make them how we please. Art only appears as a mirror of its time when looking backward. DURING the times, art necessarily makes them what they are. Now, if you think there are good reasons why discontinuity, genericization, the jettisoning of local style, the rejection of decoration and artisanship, should be the times, you can make a case for it. But I reject the idea that architects are mere passive agents “marking” how things were. They want to have their cake and eat it too in some way, because they simultaneously believe in their aesthetic and then pass the blame onto the zeitgeist if you don’t like it.

    I find “progress” a really odd concept generally, easy to invoke but hard to define. I think it’s often used to romance technology in a very empty way. To me, when I measure an act in terms of progress, I think “does this act bring me closer or further away to a vision of the good life?” And sometimes technological change does that, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes it gets us towards an ecologically sound paradise without disease, sometimes it more closely resembles a Brave New World. Either way, I don’t think merely invoking the idea of abstract forwardness justifies much by itself. And I certainly don’t think that there is a necessary connection between, say, bringing good jobs to New Orleans and having buildings that follow a certain set of arbitrary modern conventions. I see how the words “entrepreneurship” and “glass buildings” are linked by association, but I don’t actually see why they must be. As I said in my response to another poster, the “progress” umbrella is used to mean that if you want flood protection, you must sacrifice decorative masonry. This logic would seem absurd in the other arts, tantamount to saying that as recording technologies improve, it becomes less and less acceptable to play the Delta blues (because those are of The Past and technological change automatically requires fundamental aesthetic change).

    You may say, well, architecture is different; it’s a practical art, more closely linked with technology. But so what? You can still improve the technology by which you make something without changing all of the underlying work. Of course, I don’t think you should make the same thing over and over again forever. But I do think there’s no sin in building reviving an older style, and I think that new things should give reasons for their being beyond circular zeitgeistism. I know the point is that economic development and new technologies are good things, and we should represent with our buildings how much we completely embrace them and how much we reject the old, stale, inefficient world. But I don’t share your complete hatred of anything that came before. I believe democracy, from Athens to 1776 to the present, is a great tradition. I believe jazz is a great tradition. I believe sipping lemonade on wooden porch swings is a great tradition. I believe all of these traditions are worth savoring, nurturing, and riffing on. And I don’t get what your kind of progress means, but it sounds like something anathema to the human spirit.

    P.S.: I actually thought the building selected to illustrate the piece was the least offensive, because it DOES have elements of the surrounding warehouse neighborhood. I think it mainly falls under the category of “uninteresting” (and features the meaningless sculpture I mentioned). To me the other buildings are far more jarring in their modern lifelessness (lifeless because they both say nothing other than ‘I am new’ and don’t exist in harmony with the neighborhood’s colors and history). But of course, then we’re stuck with two subjective perspectives: you say they’re “stunning,” I find them deathly boring. I think if you find them stunning your sense of amazement is more easily activated than mine. Still, to me there’s an easy way to resolve it: take a poll! Ask 100 people if they find the Marigny stunning, then ask them if they find the South Market District stunning. You may dismiss this as mere populism (which is a pejorative in architecture), but I actually think, if we’re looking at our “place in time” it’s very important. Previous times have given us buildings that continue to delight us; will people 300 years hence look at the South Market and experience the same feelings of warm longing that today we have in the French Quarter? It just seems so implausible.

  • This is what I think is mistaken, the belief that it can only be a “backward mindset” that opposes your favored style. To me, a belief in the continuity of architectural custom (in places where one has developed over time) does not suggest anything about progress or backwardness. Many New Urbanists are completely forward-looking but look to lessons from the past to think of what the city of the future should look like. I am radically in favor of change! I’m just not in favor of dismantling a centuries-old cityscape for the sake of a stylistic fad that means very little outside of its own declared newness.

    It’s funny that you live where you do. It’s always interesting to me just how many of the fiercest boosters of modern architecture prefer not to live in it themselves. Peter Eisenman got very snippy when his clients found his hateful House II unlivable, but himself proudly inhabits an 18th century wooden colonial house in Connecticut. I think this is what happens when you place so much emphasis on symbols. 930 Poydras symbolizes progress, nevermind how much more enjoyable most people find it to live in a neighborhood than in a tower block.

    You say I must be wrong that it’s economically unwise, because after all, the developers will sell the units, the market’s there. Sure they will, but I’m saying that in the long run, competing nationally to carve out a niche that makes people want to move here means taking care not to erode those qualities that have attracted so many transplants (including my own yuppie transplant self; I doubt I’d be here if I didn’t find it just so damn beautiful). As C.W. Cannon put it in his thoughtful and balanced piece here on Americanism versus exceptionalism, “Neither tourists nor newcomers (shopping nationwide for a place to reside) are interested in a New Orleans that can’t be recognized as such in an easy iPhone photo posted on a Facebook page.” I think a lot of people’s decisions to move here are affected by its charm, comparatively few by the winsome allure of Poydras Street. Anyone whose decision to move is based on the presence of modern architecture wouldn’t move to New Orleans unless you flattened it. You can say “Yeah, but there are plenty of people who don’t move here because they think it’s a backwater.” Well, sure, but I think the solution is not to fill it with concrete to desperately scream “I am modern, I swear!”; it’s to offer the kind of services and efficiency that people are mainly interested in. I share the desire for the “shopping conveniences” you say I want to deny to others. Give them schools, transit, and good government. And give them charm to seal the deal!

    Furthermore, a large part of the reason someone might desire to live in 930 Poydras is not because they swoon at the idea of living in a thing that looks like a hard drive, but precisely because they do want those modern conveniences. One thing about markets is that, for a product with a lot of different qualities, it’s difficult to tell what part of it people are expressing a preference for. Saying that people will buy units in modern buildings doesn’t reliably indicate that that is people’s favorite architectural style (it might just indicate that they don’t really care). I tend to think architects confuse a preference for modern efficiency with a preference for all aspects of a modern aesthetic. Because there are tradeoffs to living in a modern block versus an old house, people may just want the ease that comes with not having to worry about termites and vines. There is of course a correlation between modern architecture and the good things in modern life insofar as they have occurred simultaneously. I’m perfectly happy to admit that, but it doesn’t affect my point, which is that this correlation is not a necessary one. I get the desire to feel like things aren’t stuck in 1952, no wifi, no credit cards, busted streets. But I think it’s just such an insane response to think that ruining the coherence of the neighborhoods is a better way to respond to that than, say, bringing wifi, credit cards, and better streets. A big black Temple of Progress cube in the middle of New Orleans doesn’t strike me as actual progress. (We might lure those Great Architectural Minds of yours, but those people are far bigger posers than anyone around here; they mostly strike me as psychopathically disdainful of both democracy and human experience. If we’re spared their theoretical claptrap and Howard Roarkian monumental fantasies, it will be the sweetest blessing.)

    I definitely don’t share your affinity for “tension.” I don’t want to live in tension. I want to be enraptured by the harmony of a place, not unsettled by its thoughtless discord. And my god, even if 99% of other cities have decided that words like “warmth” and “timeless beauty” are to be replaced by “tension” and “sleekness” must it happen here too, amidst this incredible feat of preservation? Is there really to be no refuge at all, anywhere in the world? To me, there is absolutely nothing in your worldview that would prevent putting a skyscraper in the middle of Venice! After all, if you’re fine with the Cummings proposal for the Marigny, you’d be hard pressed to object. (You might wish Le Corbusier had had his way with Paris, too!) One serious problem I find with this “pluralistic” view (“there’s room for all things here, from cottages to Koolhas”) is that it allows for pluralism within cities but not between them. I think there should be some modern, glassy places and some gardenlike wooden cities, which to me improves consumer choice (meaning that as a consumer I have the ability to “vote” to live in an old city, a mixed city, or a new city, which I don’t under your view). I even believe in variety among neighborhoods in the same city (one reason 930 Poydras doesn’t bother me much is that it’s on Poydras; if it were on St. Charles I’d be livid, though I can’t imagine you would be.) But what I do not believe is that when a place has a cohesive unity, it should be deliberately destroyed in the name of an empty word like “progress.”

  • The Racket

    This debate on architecture threads directly into the other concerns and perceived threats regarding music, neighborhoods, gentrification etc. Introducing new architectural styles into a city like New Orleans sends a powerful signal to people in other cities. It tells others who may like some, but not all things about the city that it’s becoming more open, that it’s changing. So now for arguments sake you have someone from New York, who liked New Orleans but didn’t want to move because it was a little too provincial a few years ago. Liked jazz…but isn’t a diehard. Likes local retail, but also wants more access. And now the landscape is evolving to a point this person decides it’s worth the move…he/she sees that it’s changing and it can accommodate them. From the start, this person brings a new level of expectation, perhaps an idea on conveniences, and therefore a modified set of ideals with them. This person is a portion of the economic progress, like it or not. So “change!” and progress means to accept these residents, and offer new things to them that facilitate their needs. To suggest otherwise would open an entirely new kind of debate. As well, to say that by keeping everything the same will grow the city in a meaningful way is I believe naive to the realities of modern, urban society. More of the same, I have to say, isn’t typically the greatest sales pitch.

    Regarding old versus new…it definitely isn’t binary. And tradition is a wonderful thing, and I appreciate your apparent elasticity. Fundamentally however, I get the feeling that you’re simply defending style rather than the principles in play at the time, and independent of the realities of the city when modernism in America took hold. If anything, what you see here is that architectural progress died along with the economic progress of the city. The gap, which you incorrectly assume to be preservation, is in reality missing due to a lack of interest and investment in the city at that time. Modernism skipped over New Orleans—not because it was kept out by preservationists…but because it wasn’t worth investing in this city at that time. Overall, understanding the changes between 1950 through the 1970s, it’s understandable that people today place so much emphasis on everything old—it’s precisely what kept this city from dying entirely…food, music, mardi gras, architecture i.e. tourism. That said, you have to consider what was lost by the city being unable to facilitate new thinking during an important architectural era. Kahn, Eames, Aalto, Le Corbusier, van der Rohe…all of these people did very important work in cities all across the country—work that benefits and in part defines may other classic cities who too have their own historic architectural style as a basis. One has to imagine that New Orleans would have been proud to embrace some a degree of original modernism had it been in a position to do so.

    From there, the rest of the logic (to me) begins to deteriorate. Without an argument that New Orleans in it’s current architectural state is entirely intentional—I believe it’s difficult to argue that this new version of modernism has no place here.

    I’m not sure where you derived the impression that I have “complete hatred of anything that came before”. I surely wouldn’t live here if that were the case.

  • Well, I don’t think a city becomes great by trying to lure away as many New Yorkers as possible through contriving to make its buildings conform to trends. As I say, if we’re concerned primarily with the signals of our architecture (instead of other qualities, like how popular it is or whether it harmonizes), the one I think is good to aim for is “Things are different here and a bit old-fashioned, and but we’ve updated them.” That’s why I say in the piece that I love the new Iberville buildings.

    I shouldn’t have said “hatred” to you, hatred describes the reactions of architecture critics to places like Seaside and I transferred it to you when I shouldn’t have. I apologize for that overstatement. But my goodness, you certainly have contempt! How else to describe the way you see the city? It is not so much something special that people love and treasure, but just a sign that the real world, the world that matters, passed it by. Here so many thought it was beautiful when it is nothing but a dilapidated reminder that we missed out on the Big Things That Mattered. What we call “charming” is really just failure. I take it that in your alternate history of the city in which New Orleans followed the course of a major successful metropolis, a whole lot more 19th century buildings should have been razed and replaced? You do think that St. Charles Avenue should have gone through some Brutalism like everywhere else. That would have been a mark of success rather than disgrace. I disagree, partially because I don’t think there’s much logic to changes in architecture over time. I just think there are trends, which are rationalized by complicated but ultimately arbitrary theorizing. So I don’t see there to be much inherent value in having a 1960s building instead of a 1930s one even though it means you’re “progressing.”

    Okay, so the counterargument goes, “but it is historical accident.” Why attribute values to things in retrospect that were, at the time, just the way things were done? What is this other than mere meaningless nostalgia? Great buildings are works of art, made by artists with intent to say things, but ours intended to say nothing, so they’re meaningless beyond the fuzzy romantic notions of people who don’t know the history. Well, I just don’t see why that should matter. To me, so many cultural practices are historically contingent and arbitrary. Things have the meaning that we come to give them, and it doesn’t matter if they weren’t necessarily intended for that. Are many parts of nature beautiful and treasured? Yes. Were they intended to be so? Well, no, there’s no message beyond the thing itself and whatever meanings we assign. I think New Orleans becomes more beautiful over time partially because we almost weep at how astounding it is that such a consistent aesthetic can remain for so long. But partially people have come to give it associations. Romance it. Tennessee Williams, saxophones under streetlamps, Old South elegance, whatever. Some of this is totally historically ignorant and superficial. But those associations thereby illegitimate? I don’t think so. I don’t see why intention should make a difference. A lack of economic development meant is the determining causal factor that meant New Orleans didn’t experience current trends in architecture for much of the 20th century. Fine, sure! But when we got to the other side, we began to think that it actually made us quite special, that it was quite remarkable to have a place untouched by the usually fleeting winds of economically-determined stylistic choice. And we wove myths and legends around it. But the myths aren’t true! Well, who gives a damn? We’ve come to take pride in being different, even though if we’d been more successful we wouldn’t look so different at all. As I keep saying in these posts, I think we make the world we want, and tell the stories we want, and the question is whether we find it beautiful and we’re in love with it. I think the story “this tower block symbolizes progress” is not much less fabricated than any other story.

    (Now, I also do think there’s a different and serious case to be made, which Christopher Alexander has in 4 volumes of the “Nature of Order” as well as his “Battle for the Life and Beautify of the Earth,” that many traditional styles conform far better with human nature than the modernist love of “discord” and “tension,” and that there are architectures that nourish the human spirit and those that deliberately ignore it. There are also substantial critiques of the dehumanizing effects of much of modern life, like Lewis Mumford’s. Under those theories, by a happy accident we ended up with a large amount of humane architecture and a much smaller amount of brutalizing architecture. But that argument doesn’t defend specifically New Orleanian ways of building, which is why I emphasize that I think it’s okay to have give unintended meaning to things, and come to love them for that unintended meaning.)

    Ah, but really, though, I think our two worldviews are just so far apart they will never be reconciled. To me, the vision of our lush neighborhoods being filled with the vapid works of the Greats you mentioned strikes me as horrifying. You share their values, I don’t. I don’t think they’ve contributed anything much positive to the “progress” of human civilization (a word I still don’t understand, since you’ve still not told me what it is other than liking whatever is currently in vogue), and I think the entire set of criteria that determine the prized architecture you like are hollow, antidemocratic, and inhumane. I think Le Corbusier is a maniac with a mechanical view of human life that I’d rather be dead than experience. But it’s hard to argue over such things. Personally, I’d like a place to go where I can be free of sterile boxes and other onanistic geometric noodling, and I’d pay any amount of money to live there. I wanted to find a place that hadn’t been colonized by Louis Kahn, and I thought I had. But I’m told that that’s provincialism, failure, backwardness, and that all things must conform or be destroyed. I don’t see why it’s so, but apparently it’s a rule handed down somewhere by somebody, not to be questioned. And if you don’t like it, you can go… nowhere.

  • The Racket

    Contempt? No so much. I fully understand your headspace…new-ish resident informed by the liquor this city provides in convincing you that nothing about it should change—ever. I had similar albeit less radical, architecturally segregated views at one point as well. However, it’s quite reasonable to choose to live in and maintain a 19th century home in this city—while also through travel, openness, and a broad world view choose to maintain and value other principles—architecturally or otherwise. You seem to be much more singular, in a radical, “occupy”, dangerous kind of way.

    But I sense that the modernist movement rubs you the wrong way for reasons other than aesthetic. It was after all a socialist seed that evolved into a western capitalist movement…simplicity in response to rapid growth. And while the ideals were very much about simplified process to reduce cost in the interest of “all people” (not anti-democratic as you incorrectly state), the truth is that modernism was and remains to this day—in America—a symbol of a stratified class system (the one you’re fundamentally at war with: )—one that fancies itself enlightened to a degree in it’s comprehension of the intellectual studies that modernism proved through reduction, order and simplicity…independent of unnecessary ornament as a byproduct of industrialization. Yet it remains today an expensive taste. THAT, I believe, is what fundamentally fuels your disdain. Can you really drive over to Upperline and look at the J house and not appreciate the workings of the human mind? It isn’t a study in ornament (while beautiful, ornament is by definition extraneous)—rather it’s a study in sculpture AS residence…which is not a view held by earlier architects. Ornament, which again is counter to your anti capitalistic views, is an artifact of wealth. So again, you seem to be coming from a terribly conflicted set of understandings. By definition, you more than anyone should align with modernist ideals.

    Again, the debate for you seems to be along the lines of simple matters of style…rather than the intellectual and theoretical ideas—reinforced by factual understandings of architecture and how past styles came to be by way of artistic process, class and wealth…driven by the fundamental advancement (progress) of humanity as a whole, as subject to time.

    I understand your world view, and how that now relates to this architectural debate. While at first blush, New Orleans would appear to be a fertile ground for such radicalized views on probably most everything including money and politics…and lastly architecture—you’re probably growing to find that the illusion New Orleans provides is not unlike that of an Absinthe kind of drunk. Unfortunately, very few things here are unintentional. The New Orleans you romanticize…and the New Orleans that built all of the great architecture we all hold dear was not one, understanding your views, that you’d have enjoyed very much in the first place. The architecture you hold dear is a relic of everything you’re against. Ironic to say the least.

    But the truth is this—at a high level, this city is booming. And much to your disdain, the Sean Cummings, and South Market, and the New Yorkers and San Franciscans and Los Angelenos are all coming here with their brains and their money for generally the right reasons, and are a massive part of the fuel that made New Orleans a viable alternative for transplants like you and I in the first place. The slag of this migration, as you may see it, are opposing (progressive) views. Where progress is defined by change. One must only look to New Orleans of the past to understand how bad a lack of change can be for a city.

    While radical, and in reality impossible in New Orleans, your desire for how the city “should” be couldn’t be further from the trajectory, and quite frankly doesn’t sound democratic at all.

    So as you lament in your closing statement, the places you describe do exist (it isn’t New Orleans however)—they’re called New Urbanist developments and they aren’t cheap. So—perhaps in order to afford such lavish, segregated, idyllic architectural archipelagos—my advice to you is to take a long hard look to the capitalism you despise for the loot you’ll need to live in your conflicted concept of architectural uniformity.

  • I don’t know how many times I can say that I favor change and detest stagnation. Much about this place is an absolute disaster! I don’t romanticize the nonfunctional aspects, I think that would be very dangerous. Anyone who thinks, as you’ve suggested I do, that crime and corruption and poverty are romantic is morally irresponsible. I would never heap scorn on people from Los Angeles, and I think broken things require fixing. But there is simply not a change/antichange binary (you say you don’t use a binary then lapse back into the damn binary!). I can think some changes (bringing in new people) are good while others (wrecking a coherent aesthetic) are not. But I can’t reply any more on this because I just keep saying it over and over to no effect.

    Ah, but goodness, now I’m having even more positions attributed to me, an entire intricate anticapitalist worldview based on a joking letter to the editor! (the signoff, “with glittering sincerity,” was the hint of the wink, you see). I also don’t like travel, I’m told! Yet it’s precisely the fact that I love travel and variety that I don’t want all places to look the same when I get there. Gracious, where to start with all these new things you sense that I believe? I hate transplants? I am one! Blimey. I have a lot of fun on Bourbon Street, too! And I think Pres Kabacoff’s a good dude! I would also like Sean Cummings if it weren’t for that one insulting eyesore. Shocking, I know. But the thing about prejudices is that not everyone you meet fits into them.

    First, I think antidemocratic is precisely right. If you think 20th century socialism was democratic, I strongly disagree. Utopian visions so often ignore the wishes of the very people they pretend to serve. Declaring something to be “of the people” does not at all make it so. I love the old joke about being beaten with the same stick, only now it’s The People’s Stick. A dictator’s democratic rhetoric is, to me, not dispositive of whether they are in fact democratic. So I do not give much of a damn whether a movement was intended for the ennoblement of the common man, I care what the common man thought about all that. This is why the Plan Voisin was so perverse. It spoke in the name of Ordinary People but didn’t really care about their lives or opinions or rights, about the organic neighborhoods and ways of life and fantasies they have cultivated over time.

    I’m also a hypocrite because I am an egalitarian who believes in decoration. I have to say that all of this dissection of my imaginary politics (which you find “confused,” probably largely because I haven’t mentioned any of it) leaves me a bit mystified. I’ll say that generally I have a few basic guiding principles, which are always tentative and subject to revision. My principle of democracy is that people should have as much input as possible into the forces that affect their lives. You can be a lefty-sounding architect and violate that principle, regarding popular tastes as vulgar or bourgeois. Are New Urbanist developments too expensive for poor people? They certainly are. I’d like to see that change over time, as their principles are adopted more widely. (River Garden, by my house, is New Urbanist, after all, so there’s some hope that being poor doesn’t mean being handed a grim tower flat and told that the great age of equality has finally arrived.) Similarly, that view of ornament has always seemed to me precisely the wrong response. Not “rich people have beautiful things, so death to beautiful things!” but “all people should have beautiful things.” The former view seems to me a key reason why communism has been so totally monstrous.

    You still define “progress” to mean “change.” That’s interesting to me, because it’s just not possible for you to believe it’s that simple. After all, you’re talking about particular kinds of change. You recognize that I want changes too (just a change away from certain principles I find empty, toward others I find better), but those aren’t included under the progress umbrella. So implicitly there is a definition of which changes are good and which are not. It cannot be “change is good,” because you don’t think change is good by itself. Nobody does. Global warming’s a change. You have to have an underlying guiding set of values for the direction in which changes should go.

    Again, though, there are telling signs that you and I have fundamentally irreconcilable ways of viewing the world. “The human mind at work” gives it away. I tend to think the human mind, if not guided by human values, produces little of worth. It can produce something impressively complex or sleek, but to me that’s not enough. Feeling and thinking are both necessary. If you don’t combine them, you end up with the kind of gross utilitarian socialism that gives humankind all of its needs and none of its desires.

  • The Racket

    This clearly has become a circle-jerk, so isn’t worth much additional time—I wouldn’t want to slip on the puddle left from all of this ideological masturbation on my way out the door for vacation.

    It seems that more than anything, you continue to propose “beliefs” that are contrary to the realities of the world. Ornament, as an architectural style is an artifact of wealth because…drumroll…it takes time (money) to create intricate things. Most homes are under insured in New Orleans by a factor of two…meaning it’d take a million bucks to rebuild a $500K home here back to original spec. Intricacy is inherently a luxury…as a matter of time, and therefore work-value of those creating it—basic economic principles. So to propose somehow that these intricacies be deployed en masse for “all”…then we end up with a bunch of fake stuff…because to replicate these homes authentically would take immense amounts of money…again, proving inefficient for most. And around it goes back to Disneyland—synthetic 19th century architectural façades…Made in New Orleans, R.O.C., sponsored by H&M.

    To close, I believe you simply interpret architecture though a case of myopia. I call South Market stunning, not because I’m easily impressed…but because it symbolizes so much, and is a marker for a critical turning point for the city on many levels. And times will change again and again. Architectural style is one part of that.

    To answer an earlier point about “300 years from now”—the truth is, I hope it looks reads an architectural timeline…from creole cottage through to whatever is happening in 300 years—a truly marvelous archive. I hope as much of what’s here survives, but to carry your argument into perpetuity would result in a sprawling mass of unimaginative replication. My question to you is, for how long would your vision hold strong? Would you propose the next 50,000 commercial buildings and residences aim to mimic everything else around it? Sounds vibrant!

    I’m unavailable to respond further…not due to cutting this off, but due to travel…but we agree to disagree. A valuable debate. I appreciate your tenacity on the subject. May New Orleans become the Seaside, Florida of Creole cottages, Greek Revival, Queen Anne and Italianate.

  • This has been extremely interesting, thank you for a very lively discussion! I will say that one of the things that excites me tremendously is the possibility that technology holds for reducing the cost of the intricate and ornate, and democratizing luxury. Bringing things formerly available to the few to the many is one of capitalism’s greatest features. I do look forward to the future and think it holds many great things. All the best to you!

  • KC

    Certainly some architects take the “we must build in the styles of today” notion too far. However, you’ve shown yourself to be equally extreme in your distaste for modern styles. Hell, you’re criticizing the Holy Cross development based on what amounts to a watercolor rendering. Many of the most historic cities in the world – some much older than New Orleans – have found room for 21st century designs. There are about a zillion historic buildings in this city to cherish. On the other hand, parking lots have no history or soul, and opportunities to develop over them wax and wane. I’m not sure why you believe otherwise after watching decades of stagnation. How ’bout we give the architects a chance?

  • I seem to need to make this point over and over: criticism of particular tendencies in development in no way implies a criticism of development itself. “What, you want parking lots??” No! I don’t know why people think this is implied. I have made an argument that new architecture should not deliberately discard traditional ways of building, and should respect the aesthetic continuity of places with rich stylistic heritages. That’s the argument. It’s not “don’t build things.” As I say in the article, I’m not arguing against newness, I’m arguing against some particular tenets of the contemporary architectural consensus that I think are deeply mistaken. I think it’s difficult to find compromise because that consensus is in principle opposed to any reproduction of historic styles, labeling them pastiche and Disneyland-type-falsity. I tried to find some middle ground, though, and I deliberately singled out the Iberville redevelopment in the article as (hopefully) successfully combining old and new.

    Another reason modernism is difficult to compromise with, though, is that it often celebrates tension and starkness while deriding context and harmony. So instead of trying to figure out what gives a place its spirit, and then building to fit seamlessly in with it, there is an urge to disrupt and make grand statements. Now, you can say “Well, I’m a pluralist, I believe there’s room for all things, why can’t you live and let live?” The problem is that you can’t have both harmony and disharmony. If someone puts a Gehry house on a Marigny street, it doesn’t matter that it’s only 1 out of 20 houses because the sense of place is entirely altered. I think one of the things we have here that is special is not just “a lot of old buildings” (THAT, you’re right, won’t be affected by the addition of new ones) but an incredibly rich sense of unity (which would suffer under the pluralistic view).

    Now maybe I’m wrong about Holy Cross, perhaps it will be gorgeous, perhaps it will seem both traditional and contemporary, an elegant update of the city’s timeless look. It didn’t seem that way to me from what we have now, but I’d be delighted if it turns out to be true!

  • nickelndime

    Where is Frank Lloyd Wright? Just when I needed you the most?

  • Royce

    Yeh, But what was there before the parking lot?

  • nickelndime

    Yeh, But what was there before the parking lot? I like that. Reminds me the riddle,”What is at the bottom of the ocean?” WATER. Damn —-I just slipped on that puddle on the floor on my way out the door!!! What is THAT STUFF, ANYWAY?!!!

  • Alan Maclachlan

    As an alternative to the big-box construction spreading out over the surface parking lots, consider the example of The Cotton District of Starkville, Mississippi;…1806.32397.0.36048.…0…1.1.48.img..18.21.1350.BxsOI1TVnwI#hl=en&q=the+cotton+district+starkville+mississippi&tbm=isch&imgdii=_

  • nickelndime

    I just want to clarify. Is there more than one Sean Cummings? gawdKudNotBeThatCruel! Okie Dokie. Read this quick, cuz it might get DELETED…Going Going Gone?

  • nickelndime

    Yes! Alan M. The voice of reason! Where in gawd’s name have you been, man, in this discussion? And, please do not tell me N RAMPART ST. I am way out of my element here and have had to rely on wit and cynicism. And we all know how old that gets, fast! Hahahaaaaaa

  • Alan Maclachlan

    This link will take you to the second page of the “Retail Opportunities” portion of their website, called “Area Fundamentals.” In the third paragraph from the top they make the claim that New Orleans has “the lowest poverty rate of any city in the southeast.” Can this be true? Did I miss something, or is someone just getting carried away? Here’s the link;

  • Alan Maclachlan

    I think that from a developer’s point of view the problem with the Cotton District model is that it would be too difficult to provide ironclad security. Too many little streets and alleyways, just like a real New Orleans neighborhood. Instead, the Big Box model maximizes rent, and with a single main entrance for each building makes it much easier to keep undesirable people out. It is in effect a gated community downtown.

  • Alan Maclachlan

    Here’s a photo from a recent residential development in Atlanta called Inman Park Village. Parts of Inman Park Village are super-modern in a Swedish kind of way, but the parts of the development closest to Inman Park, one of Atlanta’s few 19th century neighborhoods, are architecturally respectful of its elder neighbors across the street. Note the arched windows and the treatment of the pediment.

  • Alan Maclachlan

    …and then compare that to the treatment of the façade of the Contemporary Arts Center, a 19th century neighbor of South of Market. It’s obviously too late now, but there’s no reason a similar thing could not have been done here

  • Alan Maclachlan

    “As long as it’s done right….”
    And there’s the rub; whose definition of “right” are you using? I actually suspect that what you really mean is “As long as you like it.”
    Or is there some “Bureau of Right” somewhere, handing down these edicts?

  • The Racket

    Sure. To get captain obvious about it—everything is subject to opinion. I can gather that you understand the greater point, however. Nonetheless, to clarify I can add that “done right” could be to say “designed by an accomplished architect who’s practice is modern architecture” (as in, relating to the present)—therefore improving such opinionated chances of it’s success as a modern structure considerate of it’s surroundings.

    In other words, not designed by an architect who’s accustomed to stapling on styrofoam ornamentation in an attempt to recreate a century old architectural style that is informed not by the present, but merely an adoration (at best) of a past which typically results in a poor aesthetic facsimile (in the context of new construction). This of course is different than the concept of architectural restoration, whereby such architects serve as historians to a degree—and are typically married to high-cost authenticity—as opposed to a Mcdonald’s attempt to appease, perhaps, surrounding neighbors who argue tirelessly for status-quo in the name of homogeneity.

  • Mike

    This city needs an architectural critic. But just not this guy…..!!! Great conversation but I have to say pretty lame in most his points. The new urbanist lament is totally unfounded. Comparing St Peters and Grand Central to an apartment building? Really? Should we review your book against Huck Finn?

    The times are different, the building techniques are different, the financing, the codes, the air conditioning. If Mr Robinson would have submitted this article on parchment in calligraphy maybe I would buy in more. Though its kind of cute to see someone talking about intellectually rigorous design without mentioning the market, the economics as if they have nothing to do with the conversation. Mr. Robinson’s lack of true knowledge of how and where buildings come from in today’s world is frankly the true lack of intellectual rigor. But alas he is a mere children’s book writer throwing peanuts from the gallery.

    Often when there is an upheaval we look back nostalgically, romantically to a bygone era that never really existed in reality but in some folks romantic past. Buildings live, some die, some are reborn and some learn along the way to stay relevant. Much of it is because we care for them, and when we don’t care for them they usually die, sometimes a terribly slow death. Which is both economic, aesthetics and need all rolled up in to one rotting out building.

    Mr Robinson may be saying that the building we are building today are going to be less likely to be cared for in the future. On this, I might agree with him. But I have seen building old and new, that I love an care for. I have build new and have refreshed old and love them both the same. They have character, they have charm they have scale and proportion and they call cost money. My plumber charges me for toilets in both, he doesn’t care about the style.

    However, I do believe there is a need for an on going discussion, thus the need for an architectural critic. Also, I would love to see a panel discussion with some of the great minds of the city planning and design and Mr Robinson. We need to talk about density, and contraction, planning, design and development. There has to be more conversations like this from all the different perspectives. I imagine the weak cherry picking by Mr Robinson in this article would be put down fairly plainly and simply.

  • Alan Maclachlan

    What is it, specifically, about the South Market development which justifies the praise you’ve heaped on it? What about it is original, or distinctive, or inspired? Stunning? Really? Because I see none of that. I see generic boxes which one might see in any live/work development along any freeway in Dallas, or Atlanta, or Houston. Sorry, I just don’t see the glory there. And while I’m glad that a new development will bring residents back to the city, next to a streetcar line, and that those residents will likely be young people typically drawn to the sort of apartments which cater to singles or roommate situations, that doesn’t change the fact that they are going to be stuffed into access controlled boxes which could be anywhere and are completely unremarkable in and of themselves.
    Also, as a more or less side note, having watched them go up I’m truly alarmed at how lightly built they are. How would these buildings have withstood Katrina?

  • The Racket

    I think it’s a fundamental rift that could be argued indefinitely regarding the realities of the city, where it’s going, and the fact that it’s being driven to a large degree by new residents from elsewhere (brain gain as the media puts it)…coming here for the opportunities that were created (some perhaps from Houston, Dallas or Atlanta). It’s these outside perspectives, outside money, and outside visions (and desire for new conveniences, or architectural styles for that matter) that have contributed to these demands for such retail and residential. It’s these outside perspectives that bring desire beyond the incestuous circle jerk that was a New Orleans that was seemingly content with decline in the name of preservationism, in general—however distressed, economically, intellectually or otherwise.

  • The Racket

    Yep and yep.

  • nickelndime

    New Orleans cannot have the lowest poverty rate of any city in the southeast. I live here and there is widespread poverty and deplorable street conditions. Somebody did not just get carried away. Somebody is lying through their teeth – I mean, through their pen. This is marketing hype and propaganda. Secondly, Leonardo da Vinci wrote and illustrated children’s books. So, I think that going in that direction (by another blogger) toward Mr. Robinson was a mean-spirited remark. Now, I would like to know if somebody put something in the water over the weekend, because a number of bloggers, not just here, have been awful. Also, Madonna writes and illustrates children’s books, but I am not using her as an example. She has quite a “body” of work out there, but I do not appreciate her body outside of music.

  • Alan Maclachlan

    NIckelndime, consider the possibility that a sudden proliferation of posts, all promulgating more or less the same point of view, may in fact be the work of sock puppets; i.e., an individual or group of individuals in the employment or otherwise under the influence of an organization or entity who are told to fire up their web browsers and get online and spread the message. The Putinistas, lackeys of Vladimir Putin, did it like crazy on the forums of the NYT and The Guardian at the time of the Crimean Anschluss, only they gave themselves away by the Russian accent of their internet slang. Oy!

  • Alan Maclachlan

    Mr. Racket, having awakened from my afternoon nap and regained consciousness thanks to a tall, cool mint ice tea on the verandah of my decaying Garden District manse, so graciously served by our old family retainer, the thought has accumulated in my Carnival-fogged brain that you are fond of repeated references to “circle jerks.” I am unfamiliar with this term; should I assume that it is one of the markers of progress

  • nickelndime

    Russian music playing wildly in the background…Oy! Oy! Oy! I’ll have what Alan M. had on his verandah, but I’ll have mine on my porch. Oy! Oy! Oy! I hope that’s fireworks I hear! Oy! Oy! Oy!

  • nickelndime

    Lazy afternoon naps are one of the best things about living and proliferating and promulgating in this city. Afternoon naps invigorate and feed the soul. This city, with the lowest poverty rate in the southeast, is the only city where one can fall asleep anywhere, and who would notice!? Oy! Oy! Oy! Russian music playing wildly in the background—Oy! Oy! Oy! Beulah! Peel me a grape!

  • nickelndime

    The posts on this article have hit the 100 mark. Actually, with this post, it will be 102? Is this like, some kind of record? Do I, like get a prize, or something? Russian music playing wildly in the background – Oy! Oy! Oy!

  • The Racket

    Something tells me you’re not unfamiliar with alternative lifestyle, Alan. Dark sides aside—definitely not New York, and definitely not connected…financially or otherwise. But, it’d be easier to absorb perhaps if that were the case. And I’m familiar with the theater of paresseux so commonly expressed to assert one’s New Orleaniness, along with the associated Ben Hogan or Fedora used to project one’s authenticity to this locale.

    Anyhow—this is an age old cycle, and an age old argument dating back to the Civil War and earlier in this area. But you know this. It’s not worth the time to stumble over yet again. This architectural debate dovetails into the earlier, kale-fueled eruption that illustrated the contempt held by locals and new residents alike. Transplants see opportunity, and some locals view that as a threat to their content, preservationist way of life. Gentrification isn’t good for the flip-flopped alcoholics, content with pedaling around on their post DUI bicycles until the next Jazz Fest or Mardi Gras rolls through. It’s an irresistible force paradox.

    In the context of this debate however, and to answer your question…I like that it’s rattling some cages, and I like it’s role as marker regarding the economic vicissitudes this city seems prone to…along with the small air of “new” that it brings. And I like the attempt toward modernism, understanding it has little to no impact on the perceived architectural style of the city as a whole.

    Then again, I appreciate Eloueini’s contributions so perhaps our views present a chasm that can’t be spanned.

  • The Racket

    Pretty funny…made for a good laugh.

  • KC

    The area that will soon be home to South Market is no man’s land in New Orleans. I don’t see how it could possibly disrupt the architectural continuity of an area that has none to begin with. Maybe if we had never built the Poydras towers you would have a point.

    I would never support modern architecture in the middle of the Marigny or the Quarter.

  • Lucy

    Why do you bash them when the building in the rendering above wasn’t designed by EDR?