New Orleans Architecture

Disclaimer - this report is simply from a tourist passing view of the city. I have not yet delved into the politics and exact building history of New Orleans. 

New Orleans is known world-wide for the French Quarter and their lovely preserved buildings dating into the 18th Century. The unique balcony typology that isn’t quite as endemic in any other place in the US, the loads of ornate iron work, flowery details on everything. And that is nice and all, but looking at the current skyline you have to ask yourself, “What happened?”. 

This is not in a negative tone, it just seems that the rich motifs architects could have based their design off of did not seem attractive to the city or architects. Now, beyond the facadism of the French quarter there are programmatic elements of the buildings that could have been carried. Looking at the downtown area around the Superdome, it seems the goal was to make the flattest, squarest, character-less, colorless, buildings possible. As if in revolt around the 1950’s, modernism took hold super hard here as a way to counterpoint maybe the not so great past history of New Orleans, or to, in some Jedi mind trick type of way, bland up the downtown so much that the French Quarter becomes a vibrant tourist destination in comparison. 

I’d have to delve into the civic history and population patterns of the city, but from the surviving structures, it seems that mid 20th century was a boom time for New Orleans. There only seems to be old old buildings and Modernist buildings dotting this area. I did, however, find a massive 1930’s building that will likely clue me into the growth of the city. The Charity Hospital when it was built was one of the largest of its’ kind, boasting over 2500 beds! Coming from Metairie on the highway it pokes out like a scar, the precast concrete panels tarnish away with soot on the tops of the building. I later learned this building had been in use fairly recently. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina left the building needing significant repairs. In 2015 the city decided not to renovate and instead build a new facility. The gravity of the building and the crisp art-deco details insist on being celebrated. But now security guards prevent passersby from infiltrating he building. 

That is the few pre modernist buildings found. And surprisingly there does not seem to be any significant 80’s, 90’s or recent skyscrapers defining the skyline. Perhaps New Orleans has its heyday and is more of a tourist destination now. The juxtaposition is really striking. You go from a super pedestrian friendly French Quarter, to a downtown dominated by spaghetti intersections and flat body tall facades.