When I first moved to this city, a native told me that in New Orleans, houses are the local topography. While other cities may be about oceans or hills or sweeping plains, the average street in the Big Easy is shaped by its buildings, whether they are modest neighborhood shotguns, Uptown’s grand Italianate mansions or the French Quarter’s masonry townhouses. In an age when new construction can seem like Anywhere, USA, New Orleans’ century plus old houses are so distinct and delightful that they tend to sideline even the mighty Mississippi River.
And the nomenclature of the common house styles that define and distinguish New Orleans can be difficult to resist: shotgun, double shotgun, center hall, side hall, camelback, Creole cottage. Add discrete courtyards and lush gardens to the mix and visitors not only begin to get a glimpse of local architecture, but of the shaping forces and materials that have combined to produce an enduring way of life. Once explained, visitors can identify house styles with the ease of a local. Even more important, architectural tours offer an insider’s perspective into what it’s like to really live in our iconic city, even beyond the ghosts, vampires and pirates.
Several local organizations offer regular tours, each focusing on a different aspect of the city’s architecture. But buyers beware: New Orleans houses are hard to resist. Soaring ceilings, bright shutters, french doors and handmade mantels can be seductive. I’m sure that I’m not the only one who has so fallen in love with old New Orleans houses that I’ve up and moved to live in their walls.
New Orleans Architecture Tours
The Historic New Orleans Collection
533 Royal Street, French Quarter
A 45 minute, docent-led tour of the architecture of The Collection’s buildings and courtyards explores the history of French Quarter architecture, how courtyards developed, the different architectural types as well as the history of the various people who lived in the buildings.
Tuesday–Saturday: 10:00 a.m., 11:00 a.m., 2:00 p.m., 3:00 p.m.
Sunday: 11:00 a.m., 2:00 p.m., 3:00 p.m
$5 per person
Group tours also available. Contact Bunny Hinckley by phone at (504) 598-7141 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Note: the HNOC also offers self-guided iPod and cell phone tours.
Garden District Tour
For those seeking the wow factor, a two hour walking tour through the antebellum mansions of the Garden District and Lafayette Cemetery No. 1. Examines the historical settlement of the area as well as current celebrity homes and the ornate tombs of the city’s safest cemetery.
Tours daily at 11 a.m. and 1:45 p.m. leaving from 2727 Prytania in the Garden District.
$20 for adults, discounts for seniors, students and children.
American Institute of Architects, New Orleans Chapter
For those seeking some different and more intensive, the local chapter of the AIA offers longer tours, either on foot, bike or streetcar. Generally held the second weekend of the month, tours last between two and four hours and focus on innovation as well as tradition, including the Treme and post-Katrina redevelopment as well as the green rebuilding of the Lower Ninth Ward. All tours led by professional architects. See their website for details of the four tours offered.