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

  •  — 

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 Carré a General Statement, 1966

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Mid-century Schwegmanns to be redeveloped as a Mid-city Whole Foods

The former Schwegmann's One Stop Shopping Center in Mid-City (designed by architect Edward Tsoi, AIA, in 1964) will be renovated for Whole Foods Market.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Arthur Q. Davis, FAIA (1920-2011)

Arthur Q. Davis, FAIA, originally uploaded by regional.modernism.

I feel so very fortunate to have had the opportunity to get to know architect Arthur Q. Davis through my work at the Tulane University School of Architecture, especially in my efforts since the storm to document the modern architecture of New Orleans. In 2008 Mr. Davis graciously met with my Regional Modernism class and made a great impression on the students. He was a colorful storyteller and shared anecdotes from when he studied under Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer and worked for Eero Saarinen, thus establishing within the room a tangible link to some of the great masters of modernism. We are now beginning to understand that Mr. Davis and his partner Nathaniel C. Curtis, Jr (1917-1997) were masters of regional modernism, committed to designing contemporary architecture relevant to our regional climate and urban fabric.

We tend to think of New Orleans architecture only in the vernacular. We tend to privilege traditional architecture over contemporary. We tend to overlook the modern architecture in our midst. But in the 1950s New Orleans was a hotbed for modern architecture and the partnership of Curtis and Davis were pioneers of the new. However the recent losses are staggering. Since the storm we have lost six significant buildings designed by Curtis and Davis - the St. Frances Cabrini Church, four schools (McDonogh 39, Thomy Lafon, Carver and Cabrini) and the Dr. Lyman K. Richardson Residence. In the past few years Mr. Davis frequently lamented that an architect should not outlive his buildings. We are blessed that the magnum opus of the firm, the recently renamed and brilliantly illuminated Mercedes-Benz Superdome, the most recognized building in the state of Louisiana, stands as a testament to the ingenuity and ambition of Mr. Curtis and Mr. Davis.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Sunkel-Nagin Residence on the Market

Sunkel Residence, originally uploaded by regional.modernism.
Former Mayor Ray Nagin has listed his residence on the market. Architect Albert C. Ledner designed the house in 1962 for Pat and Adrian Sunkel - the first of three houses Ledner designed on Park Island. Known as the "Ashtray House" for its frieze of amber glass ashtrays along the fascia.

VIEW LISTING (includes photos of interior!)

Friday, September 2, 2011

Henry Miller liked New Orleanians' lust for life

New Orleans' Bohemian Outsider “Gypsy Lou” – 1955

New Orleans' Bohemian Outsider “Gypsy Lou” – 1955, co-founder of Loujon Press, which published Miller's Order and chaos chez Hans Reichel in 1966.

Of course the New Orleans people are extremely hospitable [...]. It is the most congenial city in America that I know of and it is due in large part, I believe, to the fact that here at last on this bleak continent the sensual pleasures assume the importance they deserve. It is the only city in America where, after a lingering meal accompanied by a good wine and good talk, one can stroll at random through the French Quarter and feel like a civilized human being.

(The Air-Conditioned Nightmare, pp. 126-127)

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Moderns on the Market

No less than three modernist houses on the market right now! If you know of any others, please comment below. Emile Hymel House
"House of the Future" (c. 1940). 6855 Canal Blvd. August Perez

1310 Esplanade
Office of the architect(1948). 1310 Esplanade.  L. F. Dufrechou.

Louis J. Roussel Residence (1957)
Louis J. Roussel Residence (1957). 734 Lakeshore Parkway. August Perez & Associates

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Romanticism + Regionalism

live oak moss string
I saw in Louisiana a live-oak growing,
All alone stood it and the moss hung down from the branches,
Without any companion it grew there uttering joyous leaves of dark green,
And its look, rude, unbending, lusty, made me think of myself,
But I wondered how it could utter joyous leaves standing alone there without
its friend near, for I knew I could not,
And I broke off a twig with a certain number of leaves upon it, and twined
around it a little moss,
And brought it away, and I have placed it in sight, in my room,
It is not needed to remind me as of my own dear friends,
(For I believe lately I think of little else than of them,)
Yet it remains to me a curious token, it makes me think of manly love;
For all that, and though the live-oak glistens there in Louisiana solitary in
a wide flat space,
Uttering joyous leaves all its life without a friend a lover near,
I know very well I could not.

[Walt Whitman, from Leaves of Grass, photo by Francine Stock]