by John P. Klingman
photographed by Michael Mantese
Two nineteenth-century Uptown New Orleans neighborhoods with complex histories provide the locus for the NOAF 2019 Contemporary Home Tour. The venerable Lower Garden District was a fashionable place to settle in the early nineteenth century, boasting a unique layout that included Coliseum Square as a focal point. Meanwhile, across Magazine Street the Irish Channel developed as a working class neighborhood closely connected with the port activity along the Mississippi River. Following a period of decline in the late twentieth century, today both neighborhoods are thriving; the recent renovation of the Coliseum Square fountain is a noteworthy indication of neighborhood pride, and renovations and new houses are occurring on almost every block in the Irish Channel.
Among the new houses being built in these neighborhoods, the majority are reflective of nineteenth century New Orleans building types, particularly the townhouse and the camelback. There are also a number of contemporary designs; and these are the focus of our attention. One may be surprised to see contemporary design in neighborhoods that are under the jurisdiction of the city’s Historic District Landmarks Commission; however, this is consistent with the HDLC guidelines, that allow for a complementary relationship between old and new.
The most appropriate architecture reflects its time, its place and the cultural values of its builders. With respect to place, it is the elements of New Orleans architecture that are more fundamental than stylistic features. Beginning with the interaction between the building and the street; typically porches, balconies or galleries allow for neighborly connections. Second is the provision of shading in our semitropical climate, with vegetation and building components like deep overhangs, shutters and louvers. Third is establishing the scale of the building that is commensurate with that of the surroundings. Finally, there is the relationship between the building and its garden or courtyard, perhaps hinted at from the street. It is the careful attention to these elements that connects a contemporary design approach to New Orleans history.
A less commonly recognized advantage of contemporary design in the historic city concerns legibility. One can argue that the true value of a historic building is more easily recognized when set in contrast to a contemporary neighbor. Instead, we often attempt to show appreciation for the past with a twenty-first century recreation of a nineteenth century style. There is some uneasiness that arises from this approach however. The fine residential structures of the nineteenth century accommodated a lifestyle that is no longer the norm. For example, in earlier times kitchens were service spaces, sometimes not even located within the principal structure; today they often form a hub for family life and entertainment. Newer technologies like the automobile, air conditioning and rooftop solar power have changed the way people think about buildings. The labor-intensive handcraft available in the nineteenth century is less prevalent, and building materials have changed appreciably; New Orleans is a city built with wood, but cementitious siding has replaced old growth cypress. Synthetic stucco, a thin veneer, competes with true stucco, and slate roofs are prohibitively expensive. Often metal roofs are preferable to asphalt shingles.
New Orleans is something of an outlier with respect to embracing contemporary residential design. Of course, one thinks about Los Angeles or Miami as primary examples of the dominance of the Modern, but contemporary residential designs exist in historic cities like New York City and Philadelphia. Cities abroad also provide exciting examples: Montreal, Paris, Amsterdam, Barcelona, and Dublin come immediately to mind. In Kyoto, the capital of Japan for a thousand years, contemporary houses sit alongside of ancient buildings.
The projects that are featured on the Home Tour provide a variety of approaches to contemporary design. However, they all expand the tradition of New Orleans residential architecture.
*Due to the passing of Wayne Troyer, FAIA who designed this home - his own residence, this home will no longer be on the Home Tour. However, we do still recognize this it is a phenomenal work of architecture, recently receiving the Residential Architecture Honor Award by the American Institute of Architects (AIA) New Orleans.
On a verdant street near Coliseum Square, architect Wayne Troyer has completed a major renovation/addition to his own house. It respects the linear footprint of the original midcentury modern dwelling, but brings a new vertical scale into play. There is a compelling quirkiness to the exterior composition, particularly with a large corner clerestory window acting as an architectural exclamation point. Vertical board siding introduces another level of syncopation to the dynamic exterior, while inside the dramatic new kitchen and dining spaces provide a new level of amenity.
studioWTA, Wayne Troyer, Natan Diacon-Furtado, Daniel Kautz, Ross Karsen
Aitken/Diaz Residence - 1113/1115 St. Mary Street
This is the most unusual of the contemporary house tour projects. From the street the two party-wall buildings appear to be well-behaved nineteenth century townhouses. However, their renovation and connection have allowed for the creation of a twenty-first century residential compound within. A most engaging aspect of the new spaces includes linear skylights that bring natural light down through the deep plan. Apart from the smart interior renovations, the focus of contemporary design is an extensive, exotic series of water gardens in the shared courtyard. Designer Ramiro Diaz, who has been working on urban water issues for years with Waggonner and Ball, has created a connected series of water elements that enhance runoff water quality while providing a high degree of amenity.
Jaime Ramiro Diaz, designer and project manager; 1113 St. Mary: NANO, architect of record; 1115 St. Mary: James R Diaz, Kaplan/McLaughlin/Diaz; architect of record; Christopher E Johnson consulting architect; Evans + Lighter Landscape Design
Stetler Residence - 500 Jackson Avenue
Here is a street-friendly house that holds a corner on Jackson near the river. It is a simple two-story mass with a single pitched roof, clad in metal siding like many of the warehouses nearby. It establishes residential scale with the carefully designed porches that enfront the avenue. The porches use a perforated aluminum panel surround as a signature element. Like many of the contemporary houses in the area, it uses some wood siding judiciously on the exterior to provide some visual warmth. A pleasant side garden accompanies the house on the lake side, and a roof terrace on the rear outbuilding provides an additional amenity.
Peter Kilgust, architect
Bandzuch Residence – 2322 St Thomas Street
This project in the Irish Channel is a two family residence, a very common program in the city. However, its organization, contemporary architectural treatment and emphasis on sustainable systems are less typical. There is a single story rental unit on one side. The owner’s unit, for builder Robert Bandzuch, is beside it and occupies the entire second floor. Architectural interest is enhanced by the use of multiple cladding materials. Dark, wide siding enhances verticality while areas of natural finish wood mark front entries and much of the garden façade. Here, extensive development includes a pleasant pool and pavilion.
Jonathan Marcantel, designer; Gene Guidry, architect of record
Gilmore Residence – 608 Fourth Street
This contemporary house in the Irish Channel has a striking presence thanks in part to its crisp, careful detailing. It has a simple thin shape, resulting from the narrowness and small size of its lot. From the street, visual interest is created by the contrasting hardwood siding marking the entrance as well as the dark trim around the two pairs of exterior windows. The efficiently planned, light-filled interior provides three bedrooms and combines a vertical second floor space with a third level loft. The entrance is from the side, articulated by an overhang that provides shelter, like a side gallery; and the bright yellow door is visible from the street. A handsome natural finish seven board fence encloses the side garden.
Mary Gilmore, architect; Kyle Gilmore
John P. Klingman is a registered architect and Professor Emeritus of Architecture, Tulane University where he served on the fulltime faculty for thirty-five years. His book, New in New Orleans Architecture, is available at local bookstores.