There’s so much to appreciate in New Orleans architecture: it spans the centuries from cast iron balconies in the French Quarter that date back to our colonial roots, to the seemingly endless styles of shotgun architecture throughout the city. It’s easy to miss, or take for granted, the wonderful modern architecture that helps make the city so attractive and invites us to think about the new possibilities and opportunities of New Orleans’ development.
While most neighborhoods retain so much 19th century and early 20th century buildings with their European-meets-Caribbean style, you’ll find in virtually every neighborhood great examples of mid-century modern and 21st century innovation in design that riff on our classic styles and even depart greatly from the familiar looks that define our city’s landscape. Let’s take a look at some of the best destinations in New Orleans to find modern styles in architecture.
Downtown New Orleans has no shortage of modern architecture. Maybe our most famous modern landmark is the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, opened in 1975 and designed by local firm Curtis and Davis and looks better than new thanks to some recent renovations. Other standouts include the National WWII Museum, designed by Voorsanger Architects, with its cast concrete, metal and glass in irregular geometrical shapes mixed with the old brewery and other historic buildings that remain on the museum site in the Warehouse District.
The Eskew+Dumez+Ripple designed New Orleans BioInnovation Center on Canal Street is a great example of where New Orleans designed architecture is headed in the 21st Century, with its glass facade covered by sunscreens — horizontal slats not unlike Venetian blinds, a feature gaining popularity among new construction in the city for its energy efficiency and sun protection. Another recent Dumez standout is the 930 Poydras building, next door to the Civic Theater, with its dramatic slate gray steel and dark glass exterior and protruding ninth floor glass lobby. The World Trade Center at the foot of Canal Street at the Mississippi River, the cross-shaped midcentury skyscraper designed by architect Edward Durell Stone that is slated for redevelopment soon, is a personal favorite of mine.
Tucked away Uptown are some of the most recently constructed modern homes. On Leake Avenue in the Black Pearl part of Uptown, which runs along the Mississippi River, you’ll find two buildings designed by local architect Byron Mouton and Bild Design that interpret the Duplex town home design (with river views) that minimize use of the odd parcel of land they’re built upon. The still-under-construction J House designed by Ammar Eloueini reimagines the shotgun style home through two 90-degree twisting steel tubes covered in charred cedar planks. It is maybe the most intriguing new construction in the neighborhood, situated just off Magazine Street on Upperline.
Near Lake Ponchartrain
For lovers of mid-century modern architecture, there is no better place to explore than the neighborhoods near Lake Ponchartrain. Lake Vista, and its bird and jewel named streets, offer the best examples of modernism in the city, along with neighboring Lake Terrace, within close walking distance to the majestic lakefront, and Lakeshore Drive north of City Park.
These neighborhoods developed during the middle part of the 20th century and a great many of the best architectural examples have been lovingly renovated and preserved. Another fascinating enclave is Park Island, just off Harrison Avenue in the middle of Bayou St. John, and its “Ashtray House” designed by Albert Ledner, a local contemporary of Frank Lloyd Wright. Exploring the Lakeview and Lake Vista neighborhoods is best done by car — and carefully so, as some of the streets resemble a rocky Martian landscape, thanks to the ground having the consistency of pudding. (New Orleans was built on swamp land, and it’s evident sometimes; be sure to drive slow.) A great resource to help you find these modern gems is a smartphone app (with GPS enabled maps) called New Orleans Regional Modernism developed by the Tulane School of Architecture.
Lower 9th Ward
New Orleans was devastated by Hurricane Katrina’s floods, and no NOLA neighborhood felt the effects of the storm more than the Lower 9th Ward, whose many working class homes were wiped off the map from the flood wall breach at the nearby Industrial Canal. The resilience of the city and the Lower 9th Ward community can be seen near the site of the breach in the Make It Right homes — all sustainable and LEED Platinum certified, designed by the likes of Frank Gehry, David Adjaye, Shigeru Ban, as well as local architects. Each re-imagines the architecture of New Orleans and the 9th Ward for what the future of the city could be, while giving residents of the neighborhood the opportunity to return and rebuild their community.
Photos by Paul Broussard