Thursday, December 16, 2010

Party like it's 1952

1952 Beaux Arts Ball, Tulane School of Architecture Visual Media Archive


Monday, December 13, 2010

Character study in Kodachrome

Joe Donaldson, originally uploaded by regional.modernism.
I've had the distinct pleasure of sorting through old kodachromes recently. This is one of my favorites. It was in a collection of "People" at Tulane School of Architecture and dated 1952.

"Joe Donaldson taught one class in watercolor for part of the year. I don't remember much about him except he was quite a character. He was a very talented man and very talented in teaching. It was interesting to watch him talk, because he had this habit of chain smoking and smoking two or three cigarettes at one time not realizing he had them lit. He would be on the board with chalk and cigarettes between his fingers and trying to write with the cigarette on the board. it was quite an interesting site. He was a very good teacher, a very good artist."

Milton Scheuermann, Jr. (TSA 1956) in Talk About Architecture

UPDATE 12/16/10
Joe Donaldson (1914-1997) was born in New Orleans and Studied art at the Chicago Art Institute and Tulane University as well as with Enrique Alferez. He participated in the WPA Fine Art project in the 1930s and 1940s. In 1950-1952 he taught drawing and painting at Tulane University School of Architecture. To read more and to view some of his drawings and paintings see the The Joseph Donaldson, Jr. Memorial On-line Museum.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Is there a future for the recent past in New Orleans?

Francine Stock, president of DOCOMOMO US/Louisiana, writes about the current situation of the mid-century public schools in the city. Either demolished or in danger of demolition, these structures represent a type of architecture that was forward thinking and innovative in the way they were built and used by the public. The process to discuss their future when they become obsolete has failed to provide a fair space to listen to new options. Can we establish another way of approaching this problem?

read more..... MAS Context 8 | PUBLIC WINTER 10

Monday, November 29, 2010

structure :: spirit :: sustainability

Phillis Wheatley Elmentary School, 1955, Charles R. Colbert, photo by Emily Ardoin

Regional Modernism is not just about documenting modern buildings in New Orleans, but also discovering their language of forms in relation to the environment and cultural landscape.

Back in April, I defined regionalism as a "syncretic approach to design, exhibiting a consciousness of both environmental forces and vernacular forms." A syncretic approach is one which attempts to reconcile two seemingly disparate methods. In this case, combining the purity of purpose and abstraction associated with high Modernism with the essential wisdom of our vernacular architecture's refined relationship to the environment.

New Orleans modernists were faced with relatively the same landscape and climate as their forebears - semi-tropical and surrounded by water. In Buildings of Louisiana Karen Kingsley outlines how the environment influenced the shape of our architecture.

1) Raising the building off the ground not only protects from flooding, but also improving the chances of a favorable breeze on the second story with the added benefit of less mosquitos.
2) Deep galleries shade the walls, protect them from rain and provide outdoor living and sleeping space. These were also often used for circulation between rooms instead of an internal corridor.
3) Windows and doors were aligned to provide cross-ventilation.
4) High ceilings and steep roof pitches draw off heat.
5) Cypress was in abundant supply and resistant to rot and became a primary building material.

The first three characteristics are significant elements in the design of the Phillis Wheatley Elementary School: the primary structure is raised on piers, saving classrooms from flooding, deep galleries connect the classrooms and overlook interior the courtyard, and the alignment of windows and doors allows for favorable air circulation. These sustainable design strategies are shared with our most significant historic homes including Madame John's Legacy (1795) and the Pitot House (1799). Yet the spirit of the Phillis Wheatley structure is thoroughly modern as evidenced by its cantilevered steel trusses, transparent skin and bold concrete piers.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

And then there will be one.

In a field of lost opportunities we have a singular instance of adaptive reuse.  McDonogh 36 Elementary School was the only school from the 1950s not slated for demolition by the School Facilities Master Plan. The school was renovated by architect John C. Williams for a non-profit foundation and re-opened in 2010 as the Mahalia Jackson Early Childhood Family Learning Center. During renovation the facility was stripped bare to the concrete and steel structure, shedding years of unsympathetic alterations and redundant mechanical systems. 

The form is a fusion of a ‘finger plan’ school with a double galleried plantation house. Mature live oaks inhabit the courtyards between the wings.  Initial concerns that the final product could trend toward the phony colonial were unnecessary. The modernist spirit survived. The renovation includes walls of operable windows and an open air circulation gallery. The new program is brilliant and the renovation reminds us how modern school facilities could be retrofitted to serve the community in new ways if only given the chance.

Friday, November 5, 2010

4 :: 3 :: 2 :: 1 :: Carver School Faces Imminent Demolition

Carver High School Auditorium
Carver High School Auditorium, 3059 Higgins Boulevard, New Orleans, LA (1958, Curtis and Davis, architects). Progressive Architecture First Design Award 1957, New Orleans Nine Most Endangered 2008, Eligible for National Register, Demolition permit: November 1, 2010.  Photo: Francine Stock

In the past two years the mid 20th century modern public school has become an endangered species in New Orleans. Of the city's thirty public schools designed and built in the 1950s, today only four are left standing. Soon only one may remain.

Earlier this week the City of New Orleans issued a demolition permit for the George Washington Carver Junior-Senior High School designed by Curtis and Davis, architects. The Helen Sylvania Edwards Elementary School shared many campus facilities with Carver, but has already been demolished. The integration of three schools (elementary, junior and senior high) on a 65 acre campus in the upper ninth ward allowed the schools to share common facilities (cafeteria, kitchen, auditorium) and yet retain age-segregated classroom buildings. The auditorium was also available in the evening for community events. The striking design of the auditorium with its soaring (40 ft high and 200 ft long) parabolic concrete vault and hinged buttresses is truly monumental. The Federal Emergency Management Association determined the Carver auditorium building eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.

DOCOMOMO US/Louisiana advocated for the auditorium structure to be retained as part of a new campus plan and suggested that it be adaptively reused as an open air pavilion. Unfortunately, the auditorium will be demolished with the remaining buildings on campus.

The concept of a "school village" was first articulated by architect and planner Charles R. Colbert in 1952 in A Continuous Planning and Building Program, an analysis of existing public school facilities in New Orleans and plans for expansion. The city had not built a single school facility in the 1940s and the population was rapidly expanding. Urban land values in center of the city were twenty times higher than in the newer suburbs. Selecting a site of "ninety beautifully wooded acres, at the edge of urban development, six miles away" from the densely populated center of New Orleans would save six million dollars in land acquisition. Colbert calculated that this savings would support nearly a century of "quality bus transportation." Colbert envisioned the buses as "mobile classrooms." The teachers would travel with the students and with a set of visual aids to extend classroom instruction during the commute to their "semi-rural, college-like campus." Though the mobile classrooms never materialized, Colbert's idea of a "school village" formed the basis of the Carver campus plan designed by Curtis and Davis.

In It Happened by Design, architect Arthur Q. Davis recalled that the firm initially was contracted to design a senior high school, a portion of the site allocated for a junior high to be designed by another firm, and room left over for a future elementary school. Curtis and Davis convinced the school board that it was more economical to develop the three schools as part of an overall campus plan from the beginning. The board approved their plan for a more efficient campus of ten buildings linked by covered walkways. In 1957 the plan of the Carver schools gained national recognition winning both Progressive Architecture's First Design Award and the American Institute of Architects' Best Overall Plan for a School Complex.

The 2008 School Facilities Master Plan for Orleans Parish (SFMPOP) called for the demolition of the Carver School suggesting "complete replacement." In fact, the SFMPOP called for the near eradication of the 1950s public schools. The only facility from the era reserved for the future by the SFMPOP  is McDonogh 36 (1954, Sol Rosenthal and Charles R. Colbert). This school has been renovated by John C. Williams and reopened this year as the Mahalia Jackson Early Childhood Family Learning Center.

DOCOMOMO US/Louisiana successfully nominated Carver and three other schools to the Louisiana Landmarks Most Endangered List in 2008. McDonogh 39 Elementary School (1952, Goldstein, Paham and Labouisse; Freret and Wolf, Curtis and Davis, associate architects) the first modern school in New Orleans was demolished earlier this year without review. McDonogh 39 (later renamed after local civil rights activist Avery Alexander) was in Gentilly and thus outside of the Neighborhood Council District Review Committee. 

FEMA also determined that the classroom buildings at Thomy Lafon Elementary School (1954, Curtis and Davis) and the Phillis Wheatley Elementary School (1955, Charles R. Colbert) were eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. The Recovery School District's desire to use public funds to demolish these historic structures triggered a Section 106 consultation in accordance with the 1966 National Historic Preservation Act. This bought these facilities some time during the consultation process, but they are likely to be demolished in the coming year.

Idea: the Shaping Force, Charles R. Colbert, 1987, Pendaya Publications
It Happened by Design, Arthur Q. Davis, 2008, University Press of Mississippi

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Modern on the Market :: Lakewood South

The James Trotter Residence at 5414 Bellaire Drive in Lakewood South was designed in 1973 by Nolan, Norman and Nolan architects. The spacious great room with upper gallery is flanked by walls of windows overlooking the pool, pond and spa. Both the two-story cabana and the main house have steep pyramidal double hip roofs which help cool the structures and channel the rain.*

The broken pitch roof (combining a steep central pitch and broader lower pitch) was developed by Louisiana creole builders, as they adapted a roof of Norman origins to our sub-tropical climate.** The lower pitch typically encompassed exterior galleries surrounding the interior core.

The Trotter House was recently renovated by architect Alfred "Pio" Lyons of Lyons and Hudson, architects of the National D-Day Museum. The Trotter-Lyons Residence is now on the market with Latter & Blum.  

* Charles Colbert first used a pyramidal roof in his 1955 Milne Classroom. The Simon Residence on Octavia Street (1959) incorporates four pyramidal pavilions.

** A Creole Lexicon: architecture, landscape, people by Jay Dearborn Edwards and Nicolas Kariouk Pecquet du Bellay de Verton

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

TSA Geodesic Dome project 01 1954

Buckminster Fuller (1895-1983) served a six-week term as visiting critic at Tulane School of Architecture in February and March of 1954. Fifth-year students worked with Fuller to create this 18 foot geodesic dome model of a potential shelter or airplane maintenance hangar for the Marines. Here students raise the lightweight yet sturdy model on the quad of Tulane's front campus.

The Tulane geodesic dome model was constructed of cardboard formed into triangles, painted with plastic and joined with tape. According to an article in the April 1954 edition of
The Tulanian, the dome was to be packaged and sent to the military base at Quantico, Virginia accompanied by Dean John Ekin Dinwiddie and several students. They would reassemble the model there for military inspection and it would soon undergo mass production.

I am not sure if the geodesic domes ever went into military production. However in 1958 Fuller returned to Louisiana to construct the Union Tank Car Dome outside Baton Rouge. Upon completion the 384 foot diameter dome was the largest clear span structure in the world and the largest structure of its type.

Tomorrow night please join AIA New Orleans and DOCOMOMO US/Louisiana in a free screening and the Louisiana premiere of director Evan Mather's


Wednesday September 8, 2010

Reception at 7, Screening at 8
AIA New Orleans Center for Design
1000 St. Charles Avenue

Monday, September 6, 2010

A Necessary Ruin

A Necessary Ruin
A Necessary Ruin, originally uploaded by regional.modernism.

Friday, September 3, 2010

The Sazerac Bar + Edward B. Silverstein

nola-sazerac bar, originally uploaded by imperturbe.
In 1949 Weiss and Silverstein architects designed the Baronne Street entrance for the Sazerac Bar at the Roosevelt Hotel. Leon C. Weiss (1882-1953) was at the end of his storied career - Silverstein near the beginning.

In 1953 Edward B. Silverstein and Associates designed the international style Ponchartrain Motor Company building at 701 Baronne. The 40,000 square foot building most recently known as Sewell Cadillac is now under renovation by John C. Williams for Rouses Supermarkets.

Silverstein also collaborated with Curtis and Davis architects, most notably as an associate for the Tulane Student Center, Rivergate and Superdome.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Phillis Wheatley Elementary School :: fading fast

The Recovery School District abandoned the Phillis Wheatley Elementary School after Hurricane Katrina. The RSD intends to demolish the facility and replace it with new construction. It was deemed eligible for the National Register of Historic Places which triggered a FEMA 106 consultation. Docomomo Louisiana has been an active advocate for its preservation. It was named to the World Monuments Fund Watch List 2010. In August 2010 The WMF, Docomomo US and Louisiana chapters, National Trust for Historic Preservation, Preservation Resource Center and AIA New Orleans presented the RSD with a proposal for a free, short term design charrette to explore design solutions to adaptive reuse of this historic modern school. FEMA and the RSD refused this offer and the school will likely be demolished soon.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

abstract vernacular :: modernism in the humid south

Dr. Henry G. Simon Residence
Dr. Henry G. Simon Residence, 1961, Charles R. Colbert architect. 922 Octavia Street, New Orleans, LA. Progressive Architecture

It's probably too late to rename this blog, but I absolutely love the term "abstract vernacular." I just came up with it in an attempt to describe works that formally express a modern spirit while integrating the wisdom of our ancestors to design for and with our environment and landscape.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

A Necessary Ruin: The Story of Buckminster Fuller and the Union Tank Car Dome

A Necessary Ruin: The Story of Buckminster Fuller and the Union Tank Car Dome
A Necessary Ruin: The Story of Buckminster Fuller and the Union Tank Car Dome, originally uploaded by regional.modernism.

DOCOMOMO US/Louisiana and AIA New Orleans present the Louisiana premiere of 

A Necessary Ruin: The Story of Buckminster Fuller and the Union Tank Car Dome

a documentary film by Evan Mather
Wednesday September 8, 2010
reception @ 7pm, screening @ 8pm
AIA New Orleans Center for Design
1000 St. Charles Avenue

Upon its completion in October 1958, the Union Tank Car Dome, located north of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, was the largest clear-span structure in the world. Based on the engineering principles of the visionary design scientist and philosopher Buckminster Fuller, this geodesic dome was, at 384 feet in diameter, the first large scale example of this building type. A Necessary Ruin relates the powerful, compelling narrative of the dome’s history via interviews with architects, engineers, preservationists, media, and artists; animated sequences demonstrating the operation of the facility; and hundreds of rare photographs and video segments taken during the dome’s construction, decline, and demolition. (Evan Mather, U.S.A., 2009, 29:54)

hand crafted films

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

National Trust :: Modernism in New Orleans

Many of the Big Easy's Midcentury Buildings Face Demolition.
Whitney Bank, New Orleans

Credit: Trevor Meeks
The year is 1955; the place, New Orleans. Progressive Architecture magazine has just held its second annual Design Awards, juried by Bauhaus School founder Walter Gropius. The list of winners brings a surprise: New Orleans and Louisiana capture six of the awards—more than any other city and state in the nation. The awards recognize the work of five different architectural teams, including the noted firm Curtis and Davis, whose later work will include the 1975 Superdome.

read more.....

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

New Orleans :: most Progressive Architecture awards :: 1955

In 1955 the Phillis Wheatley Elementary School was awarded a citation for its innovative design by Progressive Architecture. "All of the 22 classrooms for 770 pupils were raised off the ground, in order to provide an open play area, as the building occupies the major part of the site. Two rows of concrete piers support the cantilevered structure. A series of large steel trusses sandwiched between the classroom walls make this cantilever possible. Classrooms are accessible from open corridors, have bilateral lighting and cross ventilation. Administration and combination auditorium / cafeteria are housed in adjoining one-story structure."

In addition to Phillis Wheatley, five other designs by New Orleans architects received awards in Progressive Architecture's second annual Design Awards Program juried by Dr. Walter Gropius.

The Times-Picayune reports, "The designs, which gave New Orleans and Louisiana more awards than any other city or state were done by Curtis and Davis, Charles R. Colbert, John W. Lawrence, George A. Saunders, Buford L. Pickens and John Ekin Dinwiddie. The designs were of six proposed Louisiana buildings."

The envelope please.....

HEALTHCARE Madison Parish Hospital in Tullulah, Curtis and Davis

EDUCATION Phillis Wheatley Elementary School in New Orleans, Charles R. Colbert

RESIDENTIAL Dr. and Mrs. Lyman K. Richardson Residence in Harahan, Curtis and Davis

RESIDENTIAL Vacation House in Lacombe, Lawrence and Saunders

RESIDENTIAL General Electric demonstration house in New Orleans, John Lawrence and George A. Saunders with Buford L. Pickens

RELIGIOUS St. Bernard Methodist Church in Chalmette, John Lawrence and George A. Saunders with John Dinwiddie

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Futurist on Film

Union Tank Car Dome, photograph by Alfred Gebhardt, originally uploaded by anthonyb_chicago.

Yesterday MAKE magazine celebrated Buckminster Fuller's birthday. He would have been 115 years young.

I recently watched Evan Mather's A Necessary Ruin (Handcrafted Films 2009). When the Union Tank Car Dome outside Baton Rouge was completed in 1958 it was the largest clear span structure in the world. This futurist dome was no longer in use and had been abandoned. The Foundation for Historical Louisiana fought for its adaptive reuse, even suggesting that it could be moved to an alternate site. However, the dome was demolished in the secret of night in November 2007, just shy of its fiftieth birthday.

In September DOCOMOMO US/Louisiana will present A Necessary Ruin in a special screening. Date and location to be announced.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Western Skies Motel

Western Skies Motel
Western Skies Motel, originally uploaded by regional.modernism.
I've been trolling around the Times-Picayune archive online and found this plan for a thoroughly modern motel for New Orleans. It was designed by Houston architect Bailey A. Swenson.

To be called 'Western Skies' the motel will have air-conditioned units, a swimming pool, helicopter field, playground for children, a swank restaurant and riding stables.

The article did not specify a location and I have been unable to find another reference. I assume it was unbuilt. But the sheer grandeur of this motor hotel speaks to the lost days of urban growth and the early days of the oil economy.

source: The Times-Picayune; 06-27-1954; Page: 78

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

defining regionalism :: take two

Mollere Summer House
Mollere Summer House, originally uploaded by regional.modernism.
"All good architecture has a close relation to the environment."
- Nathaniel Courtlandt Curtis, 1936

The concept of 'regionalism' is inherent to the image of New Orleans architecture. Memories and perceptions of our built environment and landscape are very specific and rooted in this place. Our courtyards are rich with tropical greens and our galleries protect us from the rain and sun. These formal elements transcend time and connect us again and again to this place.

Regionalism may be defined here as a sense of belonging, exhibiting shared characteristics which connect us to the past and connect a building to both its neighborhood and the natural environment.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Mississippi Coast :: Lost Moderns

Roy Residence 1956
Roy Residence 1956, originally uploaded by regional.modernism.

In 1956 New Orleans architect and Mississippi native W.F. Calongne (b. 1921) designed a summer house for Mr. and Mrs. J. Folse Roy in Waveland. The design received a Progressive Architecture Design Award.

The Roy House will be on the beach facing the Mississippi Sound and will be used as a summer residence and week-end home during winter. It will be one room deep only to permit the breezes from the water to circulate freely. Large screened galleries will run the length of the home on both sides, and the narrow end walls will be solid. Inside, all partitions will stop within one foot of the ceiling to allow cross ventilation.

The house was a victim of Hurricane Camille in 1969. Camille also destroyed Frank Lloyd Wright's waterfront house for B.F. Fuller in Pass Christian. Bruce Goff's space age home for Emil Gutman (1958) in Gulfport was destroyed by fire.

For more information on Preservation in Mississippi, visit

source: Times-Picayune January 29, 1956

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Victor Bruno, architect :: an introduction

Vincent Bruno, architect
Victor Bruno, architect standing before display of annual christmas cards he has designed and sent to friends and family over the past sixty years.  photo: Francine Stock. originally uploaded by regional.modernism.

Today I had the pleasure of meeting the architect Victor Bruno and his lovely wife Jeanne Bruno at their Fontainebleau home. Mr. Bruno designed and built the house in 1993. He was a classmate and colleague of William Calongne, Nathaniel Curtis, Arthur Q. Davis, John Desmond, James Lamantia and Albert C. Ledner at the Tulane School of Architecture. After receiving his BArch in 1943 he was drafted by the Army. He returned to Tulane for his Master's degree and graduated in 1947. As a keen admirer of the work of Frank Lloyd Wright and son of a master cabinet maker, Bruno took craftsmanship and the art of building seriously. While apprenticeships were not required at the time, Bruno decided he needed to know how to build. Before opening his architectural office, he worked for the contractor Lionel Favret on the construction of the Blue Plate Building designed by August Perez.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

"It's great to see the old place: A letter to the editor"

Saturday's Inside Out included a feature on the "Breaux Mart" house in Vista Park which has been recently restored by designer Marie Taylor.

Natural light shows off eclectic interior elements in Vista Park mid-century modern home  By Karen Taylor Gist

Thursday's letter to the editor from Lynne Breaux identifies the architect as Victor Bruno.  I've contacted him and we will be meeting later this week.

from the Times-Picayune
By Letters to the Editor
May 20, 2010, 1:29AM

Re: "Light show," InsideOut, May 15.

"They call it the Breaux Mart house because someone who owned the store used to live there..."

That someone was my father, Prosper Paul Breaux, founder of Breaux Mart, who, along with his wife, Adrienne Gaudin Breaux, and eight children lived in the Lake Vista home.
It was -- and now is again -- quite a house and was featured in The Times-Picayune when it was first built in 1960.

Thank you to Marie Taylor for her evocative modernization in keeping with the original vision and spirit of Victor Bruno, the architect, and my father.

Thank you to Karen Taylor Gist for capturing the specialness of our home.
Her article with its lovely photos and descriptions does much to ease the bleak memories of my last poignant post-Katrina view of the house.

To see it in its current reincarnation is a joy.

Lynne Breaux

Monday, May 17, 2010

“A Necessary Ruin: The Story of Buckminster Fuller and the Union Tank Car Dome”

A Necessary Ruin - Trailer from Evan Mather on Vimeo.

Upon its completion in October 1958, the Union Tank Car Dome, located north of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, was the largest clear-span structure in the world. Based on the engineering principles of the visionary design scientist and philosopher Buckminster Fuller, this geodesic dome was, at 384 feet in diameter, the first large scale example of this building type. A Necessary Ruin relates the powerful, compelling narrative of the dome’s history via interviews with architects, engineers, preservationists, media, and artists; animated sequences demonstrating the operation of the facility; and hundreds of rare photographs and video segments taken during the dome’s construction, decline, and demolition. (Evan Mather, U.S.A., 2009, 29:54)

Saturday, May 8, 2010

John Stubbs @ HNOC May 10 :: Louisiana Landmarks Martha Robinson Lecture

John H. Stubbs, Vice President for Field Projects, joined the World Monuments Fund as Director of Programs in 1990, and was named Vice President in 1996. He is a graduate of Columbia University’s master’s program in Historic Preservation and was a UNESCO Fellow at ICCROM’s Architectural Conservation course in Rome. In addition to his work at WMF, Mr. Stubbs is Adjunct Associate Professor of Historic Preservation at Columbia University. Prior to joining WMF, Mr. Stubbs served for ten years as Assistant Director of Historic Preservation Projects at Beyer Blinder Belle, Architects and Planners, and worked as a historical architect for the U.S. Department of the Interior. He is chairman of the James Marston Fitch Foundation and, until winter 2007, served for six years as a trustee of the Archaeological Institute of America. 

Thursday, April 22, 2010

defining regionalism :: take one

Bayou Sauvage
Bayou Sauvage, originally uploaded by regional.modernism.
regionalism =(df) a syncretic approach to design, exhibiting a consciousness of both environmental forces and vernacular forms.

"Buildings as well as people tend to return to a state of nature more quickly in the South than in the North and West. Whatever may be said of the economic consequences of this fact, it is an advantage for architecture. Here in the South there is a sort of natural heritage of the picturesque akin to the older civilizations of Europe, something the artist would consider of value, and which in a measure should be retained."

- Nathaniel Cortlandt Curtis 1936

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Child is the Monument

Thirty thousand people attended an exhibit of revolutionary school construction designed by students of Prof. Charles Colbert, Tulane. Colbert above left, and Edwin Eley, assistant head of Orleans Parish Public Schools, check the exhibit.

In the 1950s thirty new public schools were constructed in New Orleans. The drive to modernize school facilities was spearheaded by Charles R. Colbert (1921-2007). In 1948 this young assistant professor at Tulane coordinated a 2nd year studio focused on designing modern schools suitable to our climate and sensitive to the needs of children. The subsequent public exhibition of this student work was viewed by 30,000 New Orleanians. “They went away all steamed up over such items as modern, soft-finish, non-glare desk tops; light-absorbing, easy on-the-eyes green chalk boards instead of old-fashioned blackboards; glass wall blocks which filter light and produce a soothing indirect illumination in the classroom; windows on two sides; ‘orientation’ toward prevailing breezes-----and all this at a smaller cost per foot than is usual for conventional school buildings.”

Colbert served for two years as Supervising Architect for Planning and Construction for the Orleans Parish School Board. In 1952 he produced A Continuous Planning and Building Program, a comprehensive study of existing facilities and plans for growth and development. The following spring Colbert resigned from this position as planner to focus on his architectural practice. And to practice what he preached.

‘The Child Is The Monument’ by Helena Huntington Smith, Colliers, September 3, 1949

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Vintage Lustron Home for Sale in Shreveport

Lustron for Sale
Lustron for Sale, originally uploaded by regional.modernism.

3906 Akard, Shreveport, LA 71105
Single Family Home
Bedrooms: 3
Bathrooms: 1
Square Feet: 1,440
Year Built: 1949
MLS Number: 119911

Contact Donna Smith
(318) 686-4690

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

notes on treme

The opening montage of David Simon's Treme features a series of images of floodlines on buildings, some verging on abstraction. The final image was similar to the one above of a streamline moderne "House of the Future" on Canal Blvd. It was nearly demolished two years ago, but has since been renovated.
Emile Hymel House
The closing scene of the pilot episode is set outside the Payne Memorial A.M.E. Church on S. Liberty in Central City. This is just one of hundreds of little churches embedded in our back-of-town neighborhoods.
Payne Memorial A.M.E. Church
In this case, the church is open, but sadly many of the shotguns in the neighborhood remain shuttered. I like that Simon weaves a bit of  Central City, the Lakefront and especially modern architecture into his vision. Twentieth century architecture is all around us in New Orleans but rarely seen, especially not by the ad man or filmmaker. Thanks, Mr. Simon for noticing.

"House of the Future" August Perez, c. 1940. 6855 Canal Blvd. New Orleans LA  photo: Francine Stock 

Payne Memorial A.M.E. Church, 3306 S. Liberty Street, Central City, New Orleans, LA. photo: Francine Stock

Saturday, March 20, 2010

FOUND! Presentation drawings of the Wheatley School (1954)

On Thursday I took a day-trip to the Lakefront to search for documents related to the Phillis Wheatley  Elementary School in the Orleans Parish School Board archives at Special Collections, UNO Library. I had low expectations and never dreamed we'd actually find THE drawings.  I was told to look for Colbert's correspondence file, as sometimes architects tuck a sketch in with a letter. 

It was a long shot and also happened to be an absolutely gorgeous day. I took nearly two hours to get to the library, as I kept stopping to take photos of modernist houses along the way. The first one to stop me in my tracks had tile which reminded me of Albert Ledner's National Maritime Union at Washington and Tchoupitoulas.* Later in the day I learned that this house at 4119 Vincennes was indeed designed by Ledner in 1954 for Irving Roth. photo 

Next I photographed a series of houses on Lakeshore Drive, including Ledner's Moradian House (1978). photos  I was almost at UNO, but then forced to turn off Lakeshore Drive due to road closure. This detour took me back through Lake Terrace on Oriole. More gems.

Finally turned on my blinders and made it over to the UNO Library and up to Special Collections on the 4th floor. Within minutes I was presented with binders of finding aids which led me rather quickly to absolute success.

We have been searching for drawings of the Wheatley School for years. Mr. Colbert lost his personal archive when his house flooded. Representatives of the Recovery School District told us the OPSB archives had flooded as well, so IF they had drawings, they were likely lost in the soup and tossed. Thank goodness they were wrong. About ten minutes after entering the UNO Library I was holding a set of nine presentation drawings of the Wheatley School from 1954. The drawings have been digitized and I will write more specifically about them as well Colbert's correspondence soon. 

Upon leaving UNO, I called Keli Rylance at SEAA to share the good news. She gave me another address to seek out as well which led me to photograph one of the oldest homes in Lake Vista. photo

All in all, an absolutely brilliant day.

* Sadly the NMU tile was recently stuccoed in a renovation. photo

Friday, March 12, 2010

A great day on Canal Street

Auto Life Insurance building 5
City Council upholds the HDLC designation of the Automotive Life Building (Curtis and Davis) at 4140 Canal. 
Pan American Life Insurance Co. (2400 Canal, Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, 1952) to get an historic restoration. 
see press release at

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Demolition Permit for 1st Modern School in New Orleans

Permit here. View vintage photo in The Historic New Orleans Collection

The Avery Alexander (McDonogh 39) Elementary School in Gentilly (3800 St. Roch Avenue) was designed by Curtis and Davis in 1952.  It was recognized as a model facility and was the first modern school built in New Orleans. This is a "finger school" in plan, with four lengths of classrooms connected at one end to a broad wing of administrative offices, the library and auditorium. The bands of classrooms are connected by an exterior corridor on one side. Both sides of the classrooms and the hall have operable aluminum and glass windows, so they benefit from ample natural light and ventilation. In addition, the hall also filters the sunlight from the classroom, reducing heat gain. Grassy courtyards fill the space between the stretches of classrooms. While the school flooded post-Katrina, the design of the structure is historically significant and appropriate to our climate. 

In 2008 the Louisiana Landmarks Society acknowledged McDonogh 39 along with Wheatley, Lafon and Carver Schools in its New Orleans Nine Most Endangered List. The school is outside the jurisdiction of the NCDC, so the demolition permit was granted without review. 

Nominations to the 2010 New Orleans Nine Most Endangered List are due March 22. [info, forms]

Wednesday, March 3, 2010


At the end of February Docomomo New Orleans convened to elect new officers. I am honored to be President and excited to be partnered with Vice-President Wayne Troyer, Treasurer Hilairie Shackai and Secretary Maryann Miller. We are thrilled to welcome Interns Lindsey Derrington and Ian Daniels of the Tulane School of Architecture Historic Preservation program.

We are working on establishing an active agenda for the spring, but first would like to take a few moments to review the impressive accomplishments and significant challenges of our recent past.

2008. Docomomo US officially recognized the Louisiana / New Orleans chapter under the leadership of President Toni DiMaggio. Toni was supported by Vice-President Jim Albert, Treasurer Melissa Urcan and Secretary Rainier Simoneaux. In our inaugural year we participated in the Section 106 Review of two structures integral to the Civic Center complex, the State Office Building and State Supreme Court. Ultimately both were demolished without plans for redevelopment. In March we successfully nominated four mid-century modern schools to the Louisiana Landmark Society's New Orleans Nine Most Endangered List. In June Design Within Reach hosted our first social event. John Klingman presented a slideshow of modernist buildings in the area, some at risk, others already and since demolished. In October we organized Modernism and Desire: A Streetcar Tour of Endangered Buildings in conjunction with AIA New Orleans. At the end of the year many of our members commented on the 106 Review of the School Facilities Master Plan for Orleans Parish which threatens to obliterate almost all modernist schools from the New Orleans landscape. 

2009. The Year of the Emergency Cocktail. Formal meetings were supplemented by sudden calls to arms at the Columns and Bridge Lounge. We successfully fought for Hoffman Elementary in the Neighborhood Conservation District Committee reviews only to have the decision reversed by City Council. We were inundated with FEMA 106 meetings related to Wheatley and Lafon Elementary Schools. We participated in public meetings and continue to monitor the process of the 106 review. The year ended on a high note with the announcement that Charles Colbert's Phillis Wheatley Elementary School was named to the World Monuments Fund 2010 Watch. We need to remain vigilant as the building remains at risk. The Recovery School District still fails to secure the building allowing vandalism to increase.

2010. Not only did the Saints win the Super Bowl, but the Superdome's design was recognized as an acoustical weapon for the 12th Man at home. Landmark it now!  Speaking of landmarks, the HDLC recently designated several modern buildings on Canal Street. These include the IBM/Red Cross Building(2460), Grace Episcopal Church (3700), Automotive Life Insurance Building (4140), Singer Sewing Company (4176) and Hope Mausoleum (4841).  

One of our immediate goals is to increase our presence online and on the streets. A blog, facebook and twitter are being established as a preliminary web presence. Members of Docomomo will be invited and encouraged to contribute. We also intend to focus on ways to educate the community about modernist buildings in all New Orleans neighborhoods. Currently we are working on submissions to the New Orleans Nine Most Endangered List for 2010 (due March 22, forms here). Next meeting is scheduled TUESDAY March 9 at 6 pm, Tulane School of Architecture, room 305. Hope to see you there! 

Francine Stock

Friday, February 26, 2010

Streamline Service Station (threatened)

Streamline Moderne Service Station
Streamline Moderne Service Station, 1429 S. Jefferson Davis, c. 1940s, photo by Francine Stock

This curvilinear concrete and glass block service station on Jefferson Davis Parkway is threatened with demolition. The building is situated directly across Earhart from the Blue Plate Building (August Perez, Jr., 1941, National Register of Historic Places). In Modernism in Louisiana: A Decade of Progress 1930-1940 Karen Kingsley describes a similar station, which has since been demolished. "The smooth lines and essentially the curved forms of modernism were suggestive of speed and motion. These forms were considered particularly suitable for buildings connected with travel. This gas station of the 1940s echoes the curvaceous forms of automobiles of the era."

A city-initiated request for a demolition permit will be reviewed by the Neighborhood Conservation District Committee on Monday March 1, 2010 at 2pm in City Council Chambers, City Hall. The Preservation Resource Center has photos of all buildings on Monday's NCDC agenda.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Hoffman Elementary R.I.P.

Hoffman Elementary (1948-2010)
Sol Rosenthal and Charles Colbert, architects. Designed 1948. Built 1954. Demolished 2010. Photo by Francine Stock.
Hoffman Elementary was the first of four public schools designed by Charles Colbert and built in New Orleans. McDonogh No. 36 is being revitalized by John C. Williams Architects as the Mahalia Jackson Early Childhood and Family Learning Center. Though the elevated Wheatley Elementary School was named to the 2010 World Monuments Fund Watch List, it remains at risk. Lawless High School was demolished in 2007.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Architect and the 12th Man

"When you see how our Dome had stood the test of time, for 35 years and counting, give all the credit to [Nathaniel] "Buster" Curtis, the architect in charge," [Dave] Dixon said. "Buster was a genius. It remains basically the building he designed. Buster's responsible for the 12th man."

The Times-Picayune has featured several articles recently on the significance of the fans' vocal contributions to the team. For months they have been charting the decibel levels at certain key moments in play. On Friday, the front page of the paper is dedicated to tips on how to ramp up the volume from an opera singer. Saturday's feature section includes two articles which discuss the relationship between the design of the Superdome and its potential as an acoustic weapon.

Father of the Superdome is hoping his baby is the New Orleans Saints' 12th man
By Peter Finney, Times-Picayune, January 23, 2010

Louisiana Superdome can be a prime weapon for the New Orleans Saints in NFC championship game by Jeff Duncan, The Times-Picayune, January 23, 2010

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Groovy New Year

originally seen on moderndesigninterior