New Orleans: 300 Years of Crescent City Geography, Culture, and Climate

Biannual Reunion of the Richard Morris Hunt Prize Fellows and Scholars

October 16-21, 2018

The Richard Morris Hunt Prize (RMHP) Fellows and Scholars chose New Orleans for their bi-annual reunion, in celebration of the three-hundredth anniversary of the founding of the city. Wendy Hillis, Tulane University Architect and 2007 RMHP Fellow, along with Beth Jacobs, 2017 RMHP Fellow, organized the program in this most French of American cities. 

We were to experience this city of sunshine, flowers, scents, so well epitomized by Louis Armstrong’s tune, “C’est si bon”.  NOLA (for New Orleans, Louisiana) is encircled by the Mississippi River, “le Père des Eaux”, often invisible, always immense, the Lord of the whole province, the Minotaur seducer and destroyer.  Yet, after the devastation of Katrina in 2005, this town seems to have turned the page.

Sabrina Fabris, 2002 RMHP Fellow, opened the magnificent five-day event. Jumping from century to century, she fascinated an audience gathered at the AIA Architects Centre describing the rebirth of the gardens of the Chateau de Chambord.  Thanks to archived drawings of the never-completed garden, a team from the Philippe Villeneuve Agency, of which Sabrina was project manager, have brought them to life. They are now offer enchanting views. Fabris tells us, “What an honor to have been chosen as project manager by Philippe Villeneuve ACMH to supervise the re-naissance of this prestigious garden, especially when all eyes are focused on this year’s celebrations of Chambord 500th anniversary. This spectacular project was made possible by a donation given by the American philanthropist Stephen Schwarzman. Much like my research in America during my Richard Morris Hunt Prize Fellowship for a, this is another example of the close cultural relationship between our two countries.” Follow this link to view the presentation

 

We needed to learn more about the Mississippi and its impressive estuary.  Richard Campanella, Senior Professor of Practice in  Architecture and Geography at Tulane University, enlightened us with a masterful description of the regulation of water, flow, run-off, retention lakes, and canals associated with the river… So many discoveries, so many anxiety-provoking questions.  

One cannot talk about New Orleans without touching on its annual Mardi Gras celebration. There is the before and after date, a King. A mind boggling exhibit at Blain Kern’s Mardi World explains it all.  To stay in the mood of the event, we lunched as guests of Buddy and Jean Bolton in the Rex Room at the mythical Antoine’s Restaurant.  The recipe for the celebrated Oysters Rockefeller was created there. Following lunch, we strolled through the streets and neighborhoods of the Vieux Carré under the guidance of John Stubbs, Senior Professor of Architectural Preservation at Tulane and director of its masters program in Preservation Studies. Dr. Alfred Lemmon, director of the Williams Research Center of the Historic New Orleans Collection, then took us to visit a little gem, Sain Anthony’s Garden, redesigned by the French landscape architect, Louis Benech. This garden benefitted from an FHS donation.  

That evening we discovered the luxurious Garden District, the “American Sector”. There, so much in the spirit of the true southern hospitality, the gracious Patricia Strachan hosted a dinner in her family’s Greek-Revival home built in 1849.

Follow this link to an article from the New Orleans Advocate 

Jeff Potter and Michèle le Menestrel Ullrich

The RHMP Reunions always include round-table discussions to allow and encourage an exchange of experiences, ideas and information.  Each Laureate shares or her last professional activities over the last two years. The first of these took place at the New Orleans BioInnovation Center. A picnic provided by the celebrated Martin Wine Cellar enchanted us in the open air patio.  We were joined by our friends and partners from the AIA/AF: President Jeff Potter, together with Executive Director Marci Reed and Development Director Amanda Malloy who were so instrumental in helping Wendy Hillis to organize our trip. 

A visit to the Super Dome (now re-named Mercedes-Benz Stadium) was a must.  Brad McWhirter from Trahan Architects commented on the immense proportions of this covered stadium, which became a refugee center during Hurricane Katrina. The interior of the Stadium includes over 180 commissioned artworks, featuring a four-story metal sculpture of a falcon.

New Orleans is a city of contrasts. We revert to the traditional for which it is famous. Under the guidance of David Waggoner, we visit the new extension of the Historic New Orleans Collection, which allowed us to appreciate the evolution, restoration of a building in the Vieux Carré, reputed for its colorful stucco, magnificent wrought iron balconies and woodwork.  

For a change of atmosphere, we dined under the eafy green canopy of N7, a restaurant hidden in a secret garden.

We drove through the countryside on the route of the plantations, establishments which sparked our imagination, and today illustrate a 19th-century art de vivre.  They were profit-earning establishments, intrinsically connected to slavery and the African-American population. Laura Plantation gave us a real insight into plantation life. Our relationship is long-standing, as FHS has given several donations for its restoration, and also created close links with the owners, Sand and Norman Marmillion. We visited the big house, the slave quarters and outbuildings, and appreciated the imaginative garden and view of the surrounding fields.

B&C Café was another inevitable stop, where we lunched on alligator fritters and other Cajun fare.

The Sorapuru house perfectly illustrates the conditions under which the gens de couleur libre (free people of color) lived. Jane Boddie introduced us to the descendants of a family who have been here for several generations and have prospered, thanks to their land.  But, in the South, having dark skin is still hard.  Two small family farms, to be restored, are illustrations of their history.  We leave loaded down with pecans offered by the Sorapuru brothers.

We were awed by our arrival at Evergreen, often featured on the covers of books and magazines dedicated to Louisiana and the South.

It is in perfect condition, thanks to the care of Mathilda Gray Stream and her family. We were greeted by her manager, Jane Boddie, who had come especially to welcome us and extend her warm and generous hospitality.  We strolled paths shaded by live oaks dripping with Spanish moss and past the old slave quarters to admire the enormous fields of sugar cane. Two guest house were open for us, a perfect spot to transform us from tourists into Southern belles!  Cocktails were served in the veranda before an elegant dinner featuring family silver, candelabras, and crystal.

Our second round table meeting was held at Tulane University, Wendy Hillis then presented its campus. Founded in 1888, Tulane is one the most prominent of Southern universities and a member of the Association of American Universities, a distinction awarded to only 1.5% of American universities. Its School of Architecture is renowned for its department of Preservation Studies. We were surprised by the size of the campus and the diversity of architectural styles, ranging from Richardsonian Romanesque to the ultra-contemporary. Wendy Hillis, architect responsible for the campus, has its future orientation in  her hands.

We take a total leap into modernism with a visit to the Buster Curtis Residence. Built in 1963, it was remarkably reinterpreted by Lee Ledbetter, architect and owner of the house since 2013. He has put an accent on the original dispositions adopted by Curtis and Davis, one of the city’s modernist firms. Light, light and transparency are the magic words which define the spaces in this residence. We were welcomed with a refined luncheon.

To commemorate the anniversary of the city, the New Orleans Museum of Arts (NOMA) organized a remarkable exhibit. Buddy Bolton, co-chairman of the FHS Louisiana Chapter, brought it to our attention. Works of art originating from the collections of Philip II of Orleans, Louis XIV’s nephew, had been disbursed throughout the world. They were exceptionally reunited for the first time. In our appreciation of this American effort to renew the close relationship between our two countries, RMHP presented a $1,000 donation.

Afterwards, our faithful bus gave us a tour of various neighborhoods, including some districts ravaged by Hurricane Katrina. Restored thanks to generous help, they have come back to life.  However, some hasty building has led to new destruction. We followed the levee which protecting the canal, and noticed some surprising 19th-century houses built by a navigator to satisfy his whim.

Our farewell dinner was very private and very special.  Kyle Brooks, 2003 RMHP Fellow, very generously organized the evening with the generous complicity of Eugene Cizek, his former professor at Tulane and founder of Tulane’s Master of Preservation Studies. Cizek’s home, Sun Oak, consists of series of a creole cottage in the Faubourg Marigny, connected to outbuildings by gardens. An elegant stroll leads us to a garden where tables had been set up.  Tulane School of Architecture Dean Iñaki  Alday and his wife joined us. Soft light, warmth, intimate conversations, bursts of laughter, joy, the joy of the RMHP family spending time together… After delicious barbecue, we celebrated by awarding diplomas to Bob Hotes, Laurent Duport, Axelle Macardier, and Florence Declaveillère. We also distribute presents of thanks to our generous organizers.

Plans for the next reunion are already underway. uture have already begun. In two years’ time, we will get together in France. Lyon is the chosen destination, with planning led by Sixte Doussau de Bazignan, 2018 RMHP Fellow, and Jerôme Francou, the 2016 RMHP Fellow.

À bientôt,

Michèle

2020… Lyon!

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s