Thursday, July 6, 2017

memento mori :: modernism + death of the avant-garde

Memento mori (Latin: "remember that you must die")

Nomination forms and then epitaphs. Death and modernism seem to go hand in hand in New Orleans, a city cloaked in ancestor worship.

Once upon a modern moment, a more "traditional" building had to die so a new vision could take its place. One day, that modernist vision, no longer understood, faces an untimely death. The city's inhabitants, awakened from past futurist dreams return to their roots, reaffirming their belief in the superiority of the past. They demand a more "traditional" architecture, one which simulates history, but sadly is wrought in fakery. One day, the "phony colonial" too must die.

One of the common themes of Romantic thinking is the so-called 'return to nature'  – exemplified in the modern era by architects of the Organic movement, most notably Frank Lloyd Wright.  Organic architecture fuses elements of Modernism and Romanticism, taking a wholistic and philosophical approach to building. Each part is integral to the whole. Form, function, site and materials are integrated into an organism designed for better living.

But this returning to nature can also signify entropy and ultimately death. "Buildings as well as people tend to return to a state of nature more quickly in the South than in the north and west," wrote Nathaniel Cortlandt Curtis in 1936. The Romantic imagination takes flight in the decay of civilization, as peeling paint, sun-silvered wood, and creeping vines serve as poetic memento mori, inviting us to wander in the ruins and meditate on the ultimate truth – death.  The recent natural and man-made disaster which left 80% percent of the city inundated with water led some outsiders to call time-up for New Orleans. Prepare to die.

But we persisted. 

We attended countless community meetings and joined hands in advocating for the preservation and restoration of our neighborhoods. However dramatic losses, changes to our urban fabric, our built and social environments in the past twelve years have been spurred by demolitions funded by FEMA, an influx of investors and contractors from California to Brazil, and airbnb. Diversity and hospitality - once hallmarks of our neighborhoods - are very much becoming endangered species in New Orleans. 

Six years ago, I asked  "Is there a Future for the Recent Past in New Orleans?"

In June of 2011, it did not seem likely. After the world-class avant-garde regional-modernist glass-and-steel vision-aerie Phillis Wheatley Elementary School was razed, I was too shaken and worn to wrote an epitaph. I could not think of anything else to say in defense of her worth.  I had done everything I could do and things I didn't know I could do. Yet, she died.

Today, it seems that there may be a future for the recent past in New Orleans. There just wasn't one then. The Louisiana Superdome has since been landmarked. The Preservation Resource Center's mid-mod nola series of architectural tours and talks have been well attended. Is a new wave of modernist thinking emerging from the post-Katrina swamp of neo-traditionalist banality? Are we ready for a return to authenticity and visionary thinking? Better living through the art of architecture? 

find out more.....

TONIGHT: at New Orleans Public Library, 219 Loyola Avenue

Mid Mod NOLA: Panel Discussion Moderated by Wayne Troyer, FAIA

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The most prominent architects and experts on Mid-Century Modern architecture in New Orleans give their thoughts on style, history, building use, and answer your probing questions. The discussion will be moderated by Wayne Troyer, FAIA, and the panel will include Lee Ledbetter, AIA, Paula Peer, AIA, NCARB, Albert Ledner, AIA, and archivist Francine J. Stock.
Free and open to the public

This event is part of our Mid Mid NOLA event series. Spend the sultry New Orleans summer exploring our city’s world-class Mid-Century Modern architecture with the Preservation Resource Center, the New Orleans Architecture Foundation and DOCOMOMO US/ Louisiana! The Mid Mod NOLA series will feature exciting events every two weeks from May 25 to July 20: Get a private tour of the Superdome, sip chilled wine in the home of one of New Orleans’ iconic Modernist architects, learn about our region’s architecture from experts and mix and mingle in the Black Pearl neighborhood for an exclusive block party.

"The problem is---how do you preserve a kaleidoscope? Obviously, to keep it, you must keep it in motion." 
 -  Bernard Lemann, The Vieux CarrĂ© a General Statement, 1966