In a quiet part of New Orleans’ Warehouse District, it’s quite a surprise to be confronted with the Piazza d’Italia. This Epcot-esque, almost tacky vision of Italy seems to have been dropped in for a movie set. While this architectural oddity has had its critics and confused onlookers, some consider the structure an postmodern icon. Others don’t even know it exists. In today’s GoNOLA Find, we look at the strange and magnificent Piazza d’Italia.
The structure was originally conceived in the early 70s to highlight the contributions of New Orleans’ Italian immigrants, which were often overlooked in favor of those of the Spanish and French. Tasked with designing and building the monument were noted postmodern architect Charles Moore and the New Orleans firm Perez Architects. The located for the Piazza would be what is now the Warehouse District, which at the time was a derelict, underused part of the city. The Piazza was featured in the 1984 World’s Fair in New Orleans, an event that in general was considered a financial disaster, but also contributed to the development of the Warehouse District. However, the Piazza failed to catch on in the city, and without any funding secured to maintain the structure the Piazza fell into what many called “postmodern ruin.”
But in 2002 plans were underway to convert the adjacent Lykes Center into what is now the Loews Hotel, and the hotel developers pledged $1 million to restore the Piazza — they even employed Perez Architects to ensure a faithful restoration. In Spring 2013, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu — whose father, former Mayor Moon Landrieu, originally spearheaded the creation of the Piazza — announced additional renovation plans for the Piazza that included landscaping, restroom upgrades and fountain repairs.
While many are baffled by the Piazza or don’t even realize it exists, in many circles it is heralded as an architectural icon, albeit a strange one. In a testament to this, major artist Francesco Vezzoli installed his sculpture “Portrait of Sophia Loren as the Muse of Antiquity (after Giorgio de Chirico)” in the Piazza for the Prospect.2 art biennial in October 2011. The golden statue of the Italian film star fit in perfectly with its gloriously kitschy surroundings.
Visit the Piazza yourself! Located near the Riverwalk, Harrah’s Casino and several hotels, it’s likely an easy walk from where you’re staying. Fittingly, the American Italian Cultural Center is nearby, and they often hosts events at the Piazza: the next “Concerto A Piazza” event is Oct. 10 and features opera singers and vendors selling Italian food and goods.