To listen to Sharon Litwin’s interview with architect Ray Manning on WWNO radio, click here.
One of the many positive things happening in New Orleans now is that there really are “cranes in the sky,” no thanks to Ed Blakely. (For those newcomers to the city who don’t recognize this name, or locals who chose to forget it, he was the former — and infamous — Executive Director of Recovery Management for the city who used that phrase to promise swift rebuilding immediately following Hurricane Katrina.)
In fact, it’s a number of in-town and out-of-town entrepreneurs, local construction companies and Crescent City-based architects who are the ones making today’s urban renaissance a reality.
One just has to drive down Poydras Street to see a few examples of what’s happening, with an award-winning downtown apartment building at 930 designed by New Orleans-based Eskew+Dumez+Ripple architects, as well as the new Walk-On’s Sports Bar a block or two from the Superdome, andthe new Warehouse District Rouse’s grocery store, both built by Gibbs Construction.
Coming into town on Interstate-10, drivers can see the daily construction progress at Xavier University, where green roofs have become an architectural signature for this historically black university. One major building already occupied by students and faculty is the Qatar Pavilion of its nationally-renowned College of Pharmacy. Named for the Persian Gulf country that contributed $12.5 million of the $29 million construction costs, the Pavilion was designed by another New Orleans company, Blitch Knevel Architects.
Yet one more local architect working on the ongoing expansion of Xavier University is W. Ray Manning. Born in Franklinton, La., and educated at Southern University and the University of Michigan, with additional studies at Harvard and Dartmouth universities, Manning has a long association with Xavier University and its president, Norman Francis. It began in 1971 when he was an architecture intern.
“So while this university is a client, it’s one with whom I have a very special relationship,” Manning says.
His pride in being able to help Xavier University expand and grow is not the only thing that is making Manning happy about the city these days. He’s upbeat about the potential for New Orleans to expand architecturally as well.
“We no longer have to be wedded to 19th century architecture,” he says. “Of course we have to preserve and protect the rich architectural legacy that we have. But now it’s time, given that we have so much vacant property, to think about how to make 21st century buildings. That’s what I’m excited about.”
Sharon Litwin, who writes about New Orleans culture, is president of NolaVie.