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Arts & Culture

NOLA Goes Mod: Modern Architecture in New Orleans

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.

Modern architecture can be found all across New Orleans, including near Lake Ponchartrain in the Lake Vista neighborhood.
Modern architecture can be found all across New Orleans, including near Lake Ponchartrain in the Lake Vista neighborhood.

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

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 National WWII Museum in Downtown New Orleans is a great example of contemporary architecture and urban renewal in New Orleans, with its undulating, irregular masses of cast concrete, metal and glass panels.
The National WWII Museum in downtown New Orleans is a great example of contemporary architecture and urban renewal in New Orleans, with its undulating, irregular masses of cast concrete, metal and glass panels.

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.

New Orleans architect Byron Mouton and Bild Design completed these two Duplex Town Houses on an irregular shaped lot that faces the Mississippi River on Leake Avenue in the Uptown neighborhood of Black Pearl.
New Orleans architect Byron Mouton and Bild Design completed these two Duplex Town Houses on an irregular shaped lot that faces the Mississippi River on Leake Avenue in the Uptown neighborhood of Black Pearl.

Uptown

The J-House, a private residence still under construction on Upperline Street just off Magazine Street in Uptown New Orleans, reimagines the typical shotgun house using twisting steel forms for its unusual shape.
The J-House, a private residence still under construction on Upperline Street just off Magazine Street in Uptown New Orleans, reimagines the typical shotgun house using twisting steel forms for its unusual shape.

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.

Some of the best examples of preserved and renovated midcentury modern architecture in New Orleans can be found in Lake Vista's bird and jewel named streets.
Some of the best examples of preserved and renovated mid-century modern architecture in New Orleans can be found in Lake Vista’s bird and jewel named streets.

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.

The Albert Ledner designed "Ashtray House" (fitted with glass ashtrays as a decorative border on the facade) is on the quaint Park Island just north of Harrison Avenue in Bayou St. John
The Albert Ledner designed “Ashtray House” (fitted with glass ashtrays as a decorative border on the facade) is on the quaint Park Island just north of Harrison Avenue in Bayou St. John.

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.

Homes in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans were rebuilt after Hurricane Katrina through the Make It Right Foundation and were designed by a who's who of architects from around the globe and New Orleans.
Homes in the Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans were rebuilt after Hurricane Katrina through the Make It Right Foundation and were designed by a who’s-who of architects from around the globe and New Orleans.

Photos by Paul Broussard

Paul Broussard is a native New Orleanian, photographer, writer, and culture junkie. He regularly photographs for Visit New Orleans, Zatarain’s, and other great New Orleans brands, and his photography and writings have appeared in several national and international publications including Bon Appetit magazine and The Times-Picayune. He is the co-host of the long-running Stage & Screen radio on WTUL 91.5 FM.

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