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New Orleans architecture: A desire that will never be fulfilled

Editor’s Note: New Orleans is a city that is considered to be one of the top tourist destinations in the United States, receiving almost 20 million tourists a year. One of those reasons is the unique architectural styles found throughout the city, such as French influence and shotgun homes. Another is the unique style of city planning that began in Jackson square and follows the form of the Mississippi River. The history of the unique architectural styles is something New Orleans natives and those who visit should be informed on — everything from street tiles to not-so-tall buildings. This piece with Kelley Crawford and Mark Hash was originally published on April 21, 2016. 

Kelley Crawford and Mark Hash, Senior Designer at the architectural firm Eskew+Dumez+Ripple, talk about the temporal state of buildings in New Orleans for NolaVie’s WWNO series, “Notes from New Orleans.” 


St. Louis Cathedral 1836 (left) and current day (right)

Humans are full of paradoxes. We don’t necessarily need to quote Shakespeare’s famous line, “My only love sprung from my only hate,” to prove that humans love to have it both ways, but we’re going to. We’re also going to throw in some of Anne Carson’s Eros the Bittersweet–more specifically her writing of, “The lover wants what he does not have. It is by definition impossible for him to have what he wants if, as soon as it is had, it is no longer wanting”–to really drive home that we humans are as fickle as fickle can be.

And now, let’s throw in architecture.

“We’re in New Orleans. It’s a great city with important and iconic buildings,” Mark Hash, Senior Designer at the architectural firm Eskew+Dumez+Ripple, explains.

Many buildings and homes in New Orleans have been around since the early 1800s, and they are still full functioning buildings. New Orleans is known for the early 19th century style of architecture, and it is something that gives the city a “real” and “historical” feel for tourists and natives alike. But with a constant push for progress, convenience, upgrades, and change, what does that mean for New Orleans?

Perhaps it’s not just about the architecture in New Orleans; rather, it’s about how we view the architecture here.

“In the Irish Channel, Marigny, and Bywater there are two or three house typologies that create a field of the urban context. Because they’re so many of them and they’re so similar, people don’t necessarily see them [the nuances]…What I see is that those buildings have been expanded, raised, and changed over time all in unique and individual ways. What I get inspired by is trying to understand the subtle differences between those buildings,” says Hash.

As an architect in this iconic city, his eye is on the subtle rather than the obvious. Something that may be even more subtle than the medallions, moldings, and scalloped siding that you can find in and around New Orleans, is the way time plays a role in what we build and how we build it.

Take 3D printers. Amsterdam is using a 3D printer to create a pedestrian bridge that has a shape and form unlike any other. When it comes to modern technology, Hash thinks, “We should use it as a tool to create new spaces and new forms that weren’t previously possible…Something that would have been difficult or cost prohibitive to build with any other technology. I think that’s a good use of that technology.”

So there is room for additions, but additions don’t always have to equal change. We can have the old and the new. We can have our desires fulfilled without them ever being so fulfilled that we no longer want them. In other words, New Orleanians, we can have it all. Now we’ve gone hyperbolic.

Understanding that bringing in the new does not mean taking out the old is something that architects in this city have to think about, but regurgitating the old with new methods isn’t necessarily a job many want to do. Ready to go back to 3D printers again? Because that’s where we are going. There’s no reason to 3D print a building that already exists or existed in New Orleans. “That would be a simulacrum,” Hash explains.

“We still do stick frame buildings. Some of the things that we’ve lost are the craft–terra-cotta, iron work, and things that could be seen more as ornamentation. That’s a technique or material that I would like to use,” Hash says.

Our environmental surroundings here in New Orleans do not have to be bittersweet. They can be as sweet as we want them to be. New Orleans is and can remain a city outside of time.



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