Monday, March 31, 2008

St. Pius X Catholic Church

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by Lauren Polhamus
The St. Pius X Catholic Church is a unique structure designed in the Modernist style by James Lamantia, Jr., completed in 1966. The church is a part of an assembly of Modern buildings, including St. Pius X Elementary School, Lake Vista United Methodist Church and the Lake Vista Community Shopping Center, in the Lakefront area just north of New Orleans. Designed to be a cultural focal point for the new Lakefront neighborhood, the structures on this site were designed in highly contemporary and experimental styles that reflected the daring new house designs and residential planning of the surrounding neighborhood. The unusual design of the church also reflects the change in the Catholic Church at this time. The octagonal plan with the altar at the center allows a unified space within the church as opposed to the traditional axial arrangement of churches stressing hierarchy. The dramatic copper roof draws close to the ground in wide planar folds that belie the great amount of natural light that enters into the church through clerestory windows running between the roof line and the walls. The central tower is faced on the north side with colored glass which focused light onto the altar. The church fits very naturally into its environs of Modern buildings as a structure embodying an embrace of new ideas and design methodologies.

Pan American Life Insurance

The Pan American building, 1952, designed by Skidmore Owings and Merrill marks a turning point in New Orleans corporate architecture. Located on the 2400 block of Canal St. the Pan American Life Insurance building is set back from the street occupies an entire city block. The building is one of the first corporate buildings in New Orleans to adapt the international style to local conditions. Employing a skin of metal fins to block the sun and a steel structure that allow spans of over 60’, the building marks a turning point in corporate local modernist architecture. Originally located in a residential district, the Pan American building rises to a mere 6 stories with a 2-story plinth in the back.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

St. Frances Cabrini Church

by Colm Kennedy

St. Frances Cabrini Church was located on the campus of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini School at 5500 Paris Avenue before its demolition in June 2007.

The Cabrini Church and the adjoining school complex was designed by the prominent New Orleans architectural firm of Curtis and Davis in 1961. It was one of the best examples of modern Architecture in New Orleans using innovative structural systems and design strategies. It receiving honorable Mention from the Church Architectural Guild of America as well as an Award of Merit by the Louisiana Architects Association. It was one of the earliest designs to incorporate ideas from the restructuring from the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution. The Church integrated several building types into a cohesive singular design. The structure was most notable for its expressive us of a thin-shell concrete roofing system. Curtis and Davis became one of the pioneers of this roofing system. They also successfully used geometric brick fa├žade, which grounded the building in the local context while achieving a unique modern building.

Due to its importance as a modernist building in New Orleans, it is my intention to create an informational resource on the building.

Photo by Frank Lotz Miller. Southeastern Architectural Archive, Special Collections, Tulane University Libraries

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Phillis Wheatley Elementary School

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The Phillis Wheatley Elementary School served the Treme neighborhood, on 2300 Dumaine Street, New Orleans for over 45 years. Wheatley Elementary is celebrated as architect Charles R. Colbert's most important work. Built in 1954, the school is a key example of Modern Architecture in the city. The use of large steel trusses allow the classrooms to be cantilevered over a play area. Progressive Architecture recognized the Wheatley Elementary school design in a 1955 article. The school was reviewed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and considered to be “substantially damaged” by Hurricane Katrina. The New Orleans Recovery School district has since slated the school for demolition. If the building will no longer be used as a school, perhaps it could be used as a community center or have some other purpose to serve the community.
By: Teresa Muniz

Friday, March 28, 2008

One Shell Square

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One Shell Square at 701 Poydras is New Orleans tallest building. It represents the pinnicale of the oil boom building boom which redefined the CBD during the late 60s and 70s. It also stands as a perfect example of Corporate Modernism being designed by the leading American firm of this style, Skidmore, Owings and Merrill. So much so that it is nearly a direct copy of the One Shell Plaza in Houston also designed by SOM. The building is also historcaly important because it is one of the first skyscrapers built employing a tube structure, a concept which led to the bundled tube system, which made possible America's tallest building the Sear Tower in Chicago also by SOM.

Entry by: Scott Burroughs

piazza d' italia

Piazza d’ Italia was designed in 1978 by Charles Moore. The New Orleans Italian community wanted a form of recognition of the Italian influence on the city that is too often overshadowed by the French and Spanish influence. Also, the Central Business District at the time was experiencing multiple building demolitions. In response to both concerns, the piazza was conceived symbolizing revitalization and Italian culture.
The Piazza d’ Italia is an example of historic architecture developed through the lens of post modern style. It gives reference to the five classic orders, while including its own illuminated sixth. It utilizes classic Italian colors and alludes to historical Italian features. At the same time, it entertains the modernists with progressive materials and natural awareness of its urban context.
by Trevor Meeks

Automotive Life Insurance Co. Building: the ondulated modernism

, originally uploaded by . Photo: Colm Kennedy

by Mariela Fernandez
The Automotive Life Insurance Co. Building designed by Curtis & Davis Architects on 1963 is located at 4140 Canal Street, New Orleans. This commercial building was built to celebrate the Company’s twenty-fifth anniversary. Originally place in a semi-residential area, the architects wanted to preserve the character of the neighborhood therefore the design consist of a two story building which is set back from the street. The most distinctive feature of the design is its structure consisting of concrete columns and a set of vaults built on a steel skeleton. The interior is articulated by a two-story court located in the center of the building which accommodates the reception areas. The central court on the first floor is surrounded by executive offices and meeting rooms. On the second floor the circulation route is given by a balcony which goes meandering the central court. The offices on this floor receive light from semi-circular clerestory windows. The Automotive life insurance building as well as the Davis Guest House by C & D architects are interest projects due to its curvilinear aesthetic distinguish them from the rest of the modernist buildings of its era.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Dr. Henry G. Simon Residence

, originally uploaded by .
By: Nicole McGlinn

I will be researching the Dr. Henry G. Simon Residence, designed by Charles R. Colbert in 1961, at 922 Octavia Street. The single family home was built for a young pediatrician, his wife, and three small children. The house consists of four pavilions which enclose all living functions and are connected by glassed-in walkways which create a series of private, yet related courtyards. The four pavilion's roof shapes were influenced by tropical huts which shed downpours using thatch and palm fronds. This house modernizes a primate concept and relates it to the surrounding New Orleans context. The design recieved an AIA merit award in 1961 for its innovate design. I am interested in the ways that the different components of indoor and outdoor space relate to one another to create unique living areas. I would also like to research the historical influences of design as a way to better understand how Colbert studied simple designs and transformed them to meet the needs of a modern society.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Can we rescue the future from the past?

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The Emile Hymel House, 6855 Canal Blvd. was designed by the architect August Perez as a "House of the Future." It is a rare example of the Art Moderne style in New Orleans and is in danger of demolition. The property has been on the market by Natal Builders. . If you are interested in saving this gem please comment or contact Natal.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Rabouin High School

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Rabouin High School was built by E. A. Christy in 1936, while he was working as the New Orleans city architect. Christy designed a number of schools during his time in that position in an eclectic variety of styles popular at the time. Rabouin is one of only two which he designed in the Art Deco style, the other being Elanor McMain School in 1932. The Art Deco style was quite popular at the time and is closely linked with Works Progress Administration projects being funded across the country at the time. Rabouin has been a public school for the entirety of its existence. It is located on Carondelet Street in the Central Business District, an area which once had a much denser urban fabric than it does today and as a result of the partial breakdown of this urban fabric the neighborhood has become a patchwork of uses ranging from skyscraper office towers to small businesses to schools and residences. The school is a constant in a changing landscape and should be documented both because it is of interest as a building and because what remains of the fabric of the Central Business District needs to be saved from a future as a series of parking lots.

By Mara Saxer

Award winning school design

The Phillis Wheatley Elementary School is by far one of the most compelling monuments of the era. It is the culmination of a series of design innovations produced by Charles R. Colbert, one of the primary instigators of change in the public school facilities.*

Colbert describes how the formal structure of the Phillis Wheatley School was informed by the desire to create additional play space for the children on a relatively compact urban site.

“The city building code was interpreted to allow Wheatley to be a one-floor structure. Because of this decision, the design could combine the advantages of an exposed steel structure, without fireproofing, while concentrating its reduced weight on pile supports. The entire classroom structure was raised above grade to allow the enlargement of a diminutive play area and to create a play yard. Conventional post-and-beam construction would have created a field of hazardous columns throughout the play area while the use of the full effective depth of the cantilevered steel trusses eliminated most of these obstructions. The entire classroom structure was housed within twelve shop fabricated trusses and the twenty-two classrooms were located within this simple floor-to-ceiling structural envelope. Secondary steel joists spanned from truss to truss and supported the horizontal roof membrane, while floors consisted of six inch deep double tongue and groove wood decking that spanned between trusses. The truss, better recognized in bridges, thus became more than the support for a roof system. This old and widely used structural assembly allowed efficient shop fabrication, simple assembly, and a reduced job site construction period. The raison d’etre, to free the play yard, developed into something more."**

The result was stunning. Airy, light-filled classrooms, elevated from the street, gave the effect of a modern tree-house, an appropriate and poetic setting for a child’s classroom. The elevation of the Phillis Wheatley School protected the classrooms from the post-Katrina inundation of the city. Sadly the building is a victim of decades of neglect. The facility does require some intervention. The steel trusses could certainly benefit from a coat of paint. Also, the clear glass was replaced long ago with cheaper opaque plexi-glass panels. Improvements in glass and automated HVAC make it possible to renovate Wheatley to perform better than originally.

Both Phillis Wheatley and Thomy Lafon Elementary Schools were built on raised piers that saved them from the floodwaters after Hurricane Katrina. The open space underneath the elevated structure helps cool the building in our climate. This structural conceit is borrowed from the French Colonial tradition. Breezes naturally cool an elevated structure. In the case of Wheatley and Lafon, the elevated structures also created a wealth of covered play space, protected from the elements. Both schools were built with a sensitivity to local environmental conditions. The exterior walls were glass in Wheatley, mostly glass in Lafon. This gave the children new perspectives, as well as an abundance of natural light and ventilation. It is tragic that so many of the later generation of school buildings were designed as nearly windowless detention cells.*** Colbert encouraged his fellow architects to consider the “emotional and spiritual needs of children” in their design of school buildings.****

The George Washington Carver Junior-Senior High School was praised as a model school for the nation. Integrating a junior and senior high school on the same campus as an elementary school allowed the schools to share some common facilities.***** The striking design of the auditorium with its concrete vault and hinged bridge-like buttresses helped establish Curtis and Davis as architects on the international stage. Progressive Architecture’s recognition of this school with its highest design award in 1958 is a tribute to the architectural quality of Carver High School as well as the design reforms set in place by Charles Colbert.******

* Colbert previously designed McDonogh 36 / Mahalia Jackson Elementary School (1954) and the Hoffman Elementary School (1954). Sol Rosenthal was the architect of record. Hoffman uses a truss structure to span the roof and McDonogh 36 uses a truss structure to span an elevated corridor.
** Idea: the Shaping Force, Charles R. Colbert, pp. 73-74.
*** See: Cohen High School
**** “Today’s Criteria of Design for School Buildings,” 18 Talks, Charles R. Colbert, pp. 117
***** Curtis and Davis also designed Helen Sylvania Edwards Elementary School on the site. Edwards Elementary was approved for demolition in Dember 2007. See:
****** Colbert first articulated the idea of the “school village” in 1952. Idea: The Shaping Force, p. 48.

Julian Steinberg Residence: traditional materials modernized

, originally uploaded by .
By: Stephanie Day
I will be researching the Julian Steinberg House. It was built in 1958 at 1201 Conery Street, in the Garden District of New Orleans. Architects Curtis and Davis designed the house for Mr. & Mrs. Julian Steinberg and their two children. The house appears to be one story because of its single, connecting roof plane, but it is in fact a split-level, with upper and lower floors stacked at the rear of the house, containing the bedrooms. The structure consists of light-weight steel, wood beams, and concrete, clad in brick and cypress wood. The brick provides a familiar warmth, but is applied in an unusual way, with painted white bricks interspersed, and some bricks projecting from the wall. Additionally, the clerestory windows join directly with the wood ceiling, giving the building a seamless quality.

Monday, March 24, 2008


In 1952, Charles R. Colbert was named the architect in charge of the new Office of Planning and Construction. He initiated a study of physical plant and invited local firms to submit designs for review in architectural competitions for the new schools.* Architecture firms involved in this mid-century modern renaissance include: August Perez and Associates; Burk, LeBreton and Lamantia; Charles R. Colbert; Curtis and Davis; Favrot, Reed, Mathes and Bergman; Freret and Wolf; Goldstein, Parham and Labouisse; and Ricciuti Associates.** Several mid-century school facilities were recognized by national architecture journals and organizations for their design merit. The (1954, Curtis & Davis) received the AIA Honor Award.*** Progressive Architecture recognized the (1955, Charles R. Colbert). In 1957 Curtis & Davis earned Progressive Architecture’s highest honor, the First Design Award, in for the innovative George Washington Carver Junior and Senior High Schools. New Orleans mid-century modern architects were not just making headlines and history. They were creating models of a regional modernism, inventive designs which are of a place, by a place and for a place. While in Gentilly did not receive any awards, it was nonetheless recognized as a model facility and was the first modern school built in New Orleans.****
satellite photo of George Washingon Carver Junior and Senior High Schools, Google Map

* The alliance between Charles Colbert of the Tulane School of Architecture, and Jacqueline Leonhard of the Orleans Parish School Board was profiled in Time Magazine in 1953. Through their efforts a plan was developed and embraced to create “ultra modern” schools in New Orleans. “Mrs. Four-to-One” Time, March 16, 1953.
** A Guide to the Architecture of New Orleans 1699-1959 by Samuel Wilson, Jr.
*** In the same year, Curtis & Davis received the AIA Merit Award for St. Frances Xavier Cabrini Elementary School. This school and the St. Frances Cabrini Church (Curtis & Davis, 1959) were demolished in 2007.
**** New Orleans Public School Review, 1950

Friday, March 14, 2008


The Recovery School District is in the process of finalizing the School Facilities Master Plan for Orleans Parish ( After reviewing the Building Summaries, it is apparent that the plan may effectively erase the mid-century modern school facilities from the map.* In A Guide to the Architecture of New Orleans 1699-1959 Samuel Wilson, Jr. cites twenty-five of the thirty public schools which were built in the 1950s. Of these, ten have been demolished or are slated for demolition.** Of the remaining fifteen mid-century modern schools, fourteen were assessed as “complete replacement.” While many of these buildings were clearly damaged by Hurricane Katrina and the subsequent inundation, some are merely victims of neglect. The Recovery School District is indeed in the process of recovering. However, that is not an excuse for the wholesale demolition of mid-century modern public school architecture from the city of New Orleans. These schools were designed with respect to the city’s environment and the structures are ripe for sustainable rehabilitation and reuse.

The use of the phrase "complete replacement" in the SFMPOP assessments is potentially misleading. Is the RSD actually considering replacing all of these facilities?

Map of schools listed in Samuel Wilson’s A Guide to the Architecture of New Orleans 1699-1959
Red pins represent schools that have been demolished or are threatened by “complete replacement.” Schools represented by green pins are safe. They are private schools. Of note, Brother Martin High School in Gentilly managed to renovate and re-open by February 2006. Google map by Francine Stock.

* "RSD Plans 47 School Demolitions," City Business, February 25, 2008. There are some older historic school buildings which are also threatened, including Arthur Ashe Elementary School (1907, E.A. Christy, architect). See: Squandered Heritage and Think New Orleans. Shaw Elementary (1939, E.A. Christy, architect) is also among the threatened.
** Demolished: Hynes, White, Kohn, Henderson. Replaced in mid-1980’s: McDonogh 40 (Jordan), Moton. To be demolished: Abrams, Jefferson Davis, Hardin, Edwards. Alfred Lawless High School (Charles Colbert, 1960) is also slated for demolition, but is not listed in Wilson’s Guide, as it was built after 1959. For Recovery School District Press Release see:

Tuesday, March 11, 2008


Much talk is circulating about the fate of our school system and its facilities. I'd like to share some of my research on the 1950s schools that was prepared for my Regional Modernism class and for DOCOMOMO/ NOLA. The next few posts will discuss the threats to these properties, their current condition, historical significance and how the threat can be eliminated.

GIS coworking

Think New Orleans is sponsoring a community co-working session using ArcGIS software at Trinity Christian Community Center at 3908 Joliet St, New Orleans, LA (map). If you are interested in participating, click here. Students: if you go, bring your mapping csv file and photos (if not already uploaded to Flickr). I'll be out of town and can't make it, but I hope some of you will be there to represent.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Moses Residence (Curtis and Davis, 1948)

, originally uploaded by . photo by Mariela Fernandez
This is one of the earliest houses designed by Nathaniel C. Curtis, Jr. and Arthur Q. Davis. These former classmates at the Tulane School of Architecture joined forces in 1947 as Curtis and Davis, architects. They made a commitment to design contemporary buildings in New Orleans, a city firmly identified with its 18th and 19th century architectural heritage. The Bauhaus bones of the Moses Residence were enlivened by two sculptures by Alexander Calder, a mobile in the stairwell and a stabile on the exterior rear wall. Unfortunately, the sculptures are no longer on the premises. The Moses Residence is currently on the market. Our class toured the house last month with the real estate agent. For more photos, see our .

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Flickr instructions for student photographers

Sorry. This is dry as toast. But below is a workflow we are adopting to upload photos to our new .

PHASE ONE: Creating a data file.
1. Download midmodmap.csv and Templatemodmap.csv from Blackboard Course Documents.

2. Rename Templatemodmap.csv as Yournamemodmap.csv
3. Copy lines of data that relate to buildings you photographed from midmodmap to Yournamemodmap and save. Make sure you enter your name in the column for photographer name. You will use ths file to assist with uploading photos to Flickr and for your ultimate submission of image files to the New Orleans Virtual Archive.

PHASE TWO: Uploading photos to Flickr.
1. Download the Flickr Uploadr relevant to your OS. See:
2. Log in at
3. Using the Uploadr, upload photos in SETS, corresponding to the building name or address.
4. Image size should be at least 1024x768, but you can upload a larger file if you wish.

1. Select images (click on thumbnails and a pink border will surround selected images.)
2. descriptions: COPY line of data from Yournamemodmap.csv and PASTE into description box.
3. tags: From the description of the photo copy and paste the following in double quotes.
EX. "Chapel of the Holy Spirit" "Claude E. Hooton" "1100 Broadway St., New Orleans, LA" "Francine Stock" and geotag photos with a triple tag, ex.
geotagged geo:lat=29.941522 geo:lon=-90.123601
4. Click CREATE A SET. Name it with the building name.
5. Click UPLOAD. When upload is complete - go to Flickr.

1. Check data. Sometimes descriptions are multiplied. I do not know why this happens. But please try to keep the data clean if it does. Copy and paste clean set of data into description field if necessary.
2. Verify tag info is correct.
3. MAP photos. Go to MAP. Select photos. Enter Street address, new orleans, LA. Drag photos to proper point.
4. ORGANIZE > Sets & Collections. Place set in proper collection (housing, schools, commercial etc)

I think that's it. For now at least. Looking forward to seeing the photos!

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Geocoding photos

So far, we have mapped sites of modern architecture and have started taking photos of those sites, but have not yet linked the two. Yesterday I met with Alan Gutierrez of Think New Orleans in an informal open co-working session at the Bayou Coffee House. We discussed collaborating on our mapping project, as this could help both of us out. I'm thrilled. Alan suggested starting a for online photo storage, so I've set one up. But I am also exploring other options, before we get too far into it.
I went to wikipedia to learn more about geocoding photos: embedding latitude and longitude coordinates into the photo's file information or EXIF. (In photoshop: FILE > FILE INFO > EXIF) One can geo-tag in an online photo sharing program like Flickr or Picasa. But this only tags the smaller image files that have been uploaded to these sites. I would like to geotag my master image files. Apparently one can manually enter these coordinates into the photo's EXIF, but that sounds like a bore.
Wikipedia lists two desktop applications, iTag and Robogeo, for geocoding photos. At first glance, neither is an ideal fit for me; iTag is free, but windows only; RoboGeo is $39.95, and I'm trying to accomplish this task without purchasing additional software. hmmmm.