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Public interest design in Central City

Every now and then, there’s a newspaper article or television clip showing some new community project spearheaded by Tulane City Center. Chances are, few readers or viewers know exactly what the Tulane City Center is and, probably, even fewer know what it does and why it’s here.

Maurice Cox

Maurice Cox

“It is a part of a new national movement called Public Interest Design,” explains its recently appointed director, Maurice Cox, about this innovative and constantly active part of Tulane University’s School of Architecture. “The trend in architecture education is to embrace a much larger sector of the community, in advocacy for design and quality of life, through design. And Tulane, in particular New Orleans, is attracting hundreds of young designers who are specifically coming here because of the incredibly fertile moment that the city is going through in remaking itself.”

Tulane City Center was actually a pre-Katrina idea to engage members of the Tulane University School of Architecture with the wider community. Hurricane clean-up and recovery halted any implementation until 2007, when faculty member Scott Bernhard became director. After five active years leading a center that involved faculty, students and community, Scott Bernhard stepped back into teaching, handing over the keys to this kingdom to urban designer Maurice Cox.

Maurice Cox’s academic achievements — as a former educator at the University of Virginia, School of Architecture and, most recently, as the Director of Design for the National Endowment for the Arts — are impressive. But what makes him a most unusual architecture faculty member is that he also has held political office, serving as the Mayor of Charlottesville, Virginia for eight years.

Maurice Cox’s background in the worlds of academic, architectural and political reality, along with his personal commitment to community advocacy, should serve him well in this town, where politics is a sport second only to the Saints.

“We work with non-profits that have a social mission,” Cox explains. “Since Tulane City Center is a not-for-profit arm of the School of Architecture, it allows us to create real-time opportunities to teach using the City of New Orleans as a laboratory.”

As proof of his commitment to the community, Cox has moved the Tulane City Center off the St. Charles Avenue campus and into a storefront office on Oretha Castle Haley Blvd., in Central City. There, his small core staff of three works on putting together project-based design teams of faculty and students, as well as strategic planning, community outreach and fundraising.

For more information on the more than 70 projects already completed by Tulane City Center, go to or call 504-314-2330.



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