Thursday, November 17, 2016

Counter Proposal: Hampton Inn Elysian Fields Ave, New Orleans

Contributed by Michael Rouchell 
founding member of the Louisiana Chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture and Art

Proposed Elevation Rendering
Image courtesy of Alecha Architecture

The historic Faubourg Marigny neighborhood is located immediately down river from New Orleans’ Vieux Carre historic district.  A few weeks ago, a hotel project was announced for a prominent site on Elysian Fields Avenue, a scenic, tree-lined boulevard that extends from the Mississippi River to Lake Pontchartrain in New Orleans.  The renderings depicted a standard, suburban-styled Hampton Inn.  The design of the exterior is typical of a recent design trend where the facades are broken down into various mini-facades, each given a different architectural treatment, color, material, and cornice height, and each is offset from the other to create an irregular street wall.  The problem with this design approach is that each mini-façade is incomplete, lacking an entrance, or compositional focal point.  The overall building scheme appears to be more of a collage rather than a coherent, architectural composition.

Proposed ElevationsImage courtesy of Alecha Architecture

In response to neighbors’ desire to have a more traditional design, Architect, Francisco Alecha said there's a "tension between making it look like the neighborhood and making it distinctly clear that it's new."

"The building should not pretend to be old," he said. "It would be deceiving."

The building will be reviewed by the New Orleans Historic Districts and Landmarks Commission (HDLC), and more than likely the current design will be discarded or revised in favor of something more modernist.  The HDLC is not one to force an architect to design a traditional design that “pretends to look old” and would more likely persuade the architect to design a modernist design that fits the neighborhood.  The problem is that a modernist design at such a large scale would never fit in with the neighborhood.

Proposed Elevation Rendering
Image courtesy of Alecha Architecture


The site is located on Elysian Fields Avenue, and is bounded by Decatur Street, Marigny Street and Chartres Street, and is one block from the Mississippi River. Elysian Fields Avenue runs north and south, from Lake Pontchartrain to the Mississippi River at Esplanade Avenue. Esplanade Avenue forms the downriver boundary of the Vieux Carre’.  The site is industrialized because of its proximity to the river.  The block that is across Decatur Street, and nearest to the river, has a large electrical transformer sub-station.  This block of Decatur Street is very industrial in character, whereas Elysian Fields Avenue calls out for something more formal in character.  Towards the rear of the site are smaller residential, wood-framed houses. 

Without the use of a survey or plot plan showing the exact dimensions of the site, I had to use Google Earth’s measuring device to scale the site.  It appears that the site is approximately 115 feet fronting on Elysian Fields Avenue and 310 feet on Decatur Street.  The other site dimensions are unknown, and for the purposes of this exercise are unimportant.


The building is configured into an elongated “L” with the short leg of the “L” fronting on Elysian Fields Avenue, and the long leg of the “L” facing Decatur Street.  The width of the building is 65 feet wide to accommodate parking on part of the lower level, and the column bays are 30 feet wide.  A 30 foot wide column bay supports two 15 foot wide rooms above, and creates 3 parking spaces.  The rooms facing Elysian Fields Avenue are approximately 16 feet wide, which allows for a 7 bay façade on Elysian Fields Avenue.  The 7 bay façade is easy to divide into a tripartite composition by allowing the center 3 bays to project forward slightly.

Counter Proposed 1st Floor Plan
Image courtesy of Michael Rouchell
Counter Proposed Typical Floor Plan
Image courtesy of Michael Rouchell

All of the facades are stucco finished, with the façade facing Elysian Fields Avenue given more detailing and the side facing Decatur Street being treated more utilitarian. The Elysian Fields façade has a water table, a cornice at the second floor line, quoins at the corners, and is topped by a simple cornice. The well appointed façade treatment wraps the Decatur Street side for the first full bay.  From there back the façade is reduced to simple, flat bands that echo the cornice and water table lines on the front.

The entrance is defined by 5 arches between Tuscan columns and pilasters located at the center of the Elysian Fields façade.

Counter Proposed Elevations
Image courtesy of Michael Rouchell

The design shows a more hierarchical approach to design, where the façade facing Elysian Fields Avenue is more dressed up, with the entrance area having the most traditional details, and the sides and rear are more utilitarian.  This is a more common way of designing buildings that have limited budgets and allows more money to be spent on the front and the entrance, where it is able to make the most impact.


This counter proposal is intended to demonstrate how easy it is to incorporate traditional design into a project to make it fit within a traditional neighborhood.  Often, such design solutions are immediately dismissed as being too expensive to execute, or requiring building skills that are unavailable today.  To the contrary, a traditional design can often be the simplest solution, and with a hierarchical approach to design, a modest construction budget can be had.

The façades shown are a first pass at the design, meaning that there have been no revisions or refinements.  If further developed, this proposal could be developed into a really fine looking hotel building that fits within its historic neighborhood.    

Contributed by Michael Rouchell 
founding member of the Louisiana Chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture and Art

Friday, November 11, 2016

The Importance of Publications

Contributed by Carroll William Westfall
Professor Emeritus 
School of Architecture 
University of Notre Dame

Benjamin H. Marshall, Chicago Architect
by John Zukowsky and Jean Guarino
     The reviews of Léon Krier’s Architecture Choice or Fate by Patrick Webb and of Henry Howard: Louisiana’s Architect by Michael Rouchell recently remind us of the important role that publications play in promoting and propagating classical architecture.
      Over the last few decades a number of monographs have made available the work of several important architects from the first few decades of the previous century, mainly in major east coast cities.
      Every major American city and many minor ones had architects in those decades who produced superb classical public and private buildings that the nation’s new wealth and social order called into existence. Classical architects would be well served if they were better known.
      Attention to them so far has come mainly from preservationists who categorize them according to the criteria that can lead to their designation as landmarks. This is a valuable undertaking, but it carries with it a peril and a deficiency.
      The peril is that in the currently dominant practices in preservation the designation will describe a style that was of its time that must be distinguished from any alterations or additions that are made in our time or some later time, a peril that lies beyond the scope of this comment.
       The deficiency is that the buildings are treated as treasures locked away in a past and irrelevant to the concerns of present-day architects. Paying attention to them will inhibit the creativity expected of them.
       Publications of those achievements is perhaps the best way to remedy this deficiency. Beautifully produced books and other outlets including this web site can enlarge the audience of the general public, architects, and potential clients about how satisfying a well-done classical building can be.
      The situation is vastly improved since 1972 when I arrived to teach in Chicago. I quickly learned that Chicago’s architecture groupies formed a cult that knew about the World’s Columbian Exposition that Louis Sullivan hated, Richardson’s long-gone Marshall Field Warehouse that had inspired Sullivan, and Sullivan’s role as the lieber Meister of Frank Lloyd Wright while the more professionally-minded knew about their predecessors among the short-lived but seminal Chicago School of Architecture and Daniel Burnham’s 1909 Plan of Chicago.
      The day after arriving in the “city of broad shoulders” I paid a visit to the icons of architectural history, but at Sullivan’s Old Stock Exchange all I found was the hole in the ground where its basement had been. Its destruction was for Chicago what Penn Station’s demolition was for New York. More personally, for the first time I realized that among the icons I had learned about when completing my doctorate with its focus on architecture and art from the Renaissance to the present day were some buildings that are mere objects of commerce. “Chicago doesn’t talk, it builds,” was the slogan in the architecture community.
John B. Murphy Memorial Auditorium
designed by Marshall and Fox
circa 1926
      I became involved in the preservation movement that was documenting a wider corpus of buildings. Meanwhile, Post Modernism was taking hold, which led architects to take a more direct interest in old buildings. In 1979 the Chicago Architectural Club was revived, and it underwrote my expenses to explore the work of Benjamin Howard Marshall (1874-1944), the architect who had built the most opulent and extravagantly classical buildings in Chicago. There had recently been so little interest in him his papers had been sold to the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas. The result was my brief article on Marshall in The Chicago Architectural Journal [II (1982), 8 27].
      A decade or more later Jane LePauw and her husband Didier who had long lived in Paris were so impressed by Marshall’s superb understanding of French École des Beaux Arts design they launched the Benjamin Marshall Society. Under Jane’s leadership the Society sponsored the publication of Benjamin H. Marshall, Chicago Architect with John Zukowsky and Jean Guarino as authors. Lavishly illustrated, its Acanthus Press publication in 2015 was underwritten by the Society and by Richard H. Driehaus who had bought and restored an excellent auditorium by Marshall; it is the site of Driehaus Prize festivities.
Murphy Memorial today
      Intrigued by this American classicism I took an interest in the virtually unknown Alfred S. Alschuler whose firm was the era’s second most productive. I wrote an article about his work and its place in the cultural, urban, and architectural climate in Chicago that was filling in the pieces in the Burnham Plan, but when it was published in Threshold: Journal of the School of Architecture, University of Illinois at Chicago [5/6 (1991), 90 102] where it would be truncated without my agreement into a mere review of Alschuler’s work.
      The then Dean had promised me that I would have an opportunity to publish the other half, but nothing came of that. In the meantime I had moved in 1982 to the University of Virginia where I published the excised half as "The Classical American City in Image and in Chicago," in Modulus 23 The University of Virginia Architectural Review [(1995), 52-71.
      Living and working next to Thomas Jefferson’s academical village gave me additional insight into two questions I had formulated in Chicago: Was Burnham’s plan Renaissance or Modern? and, When did the Renaissance end in architecture? I developed sensible, unpublished answers that were merely the exercises of an historian. The scales fell from my eyes when I realized, prompted by Demetri Porphirios and Léon Krier, whom Dean Jaquelin Robertson had brought to Virginia during my first year there, that classicism is not a style and that history and practice are the same endeavor. Ever since then I have sought to provide a pathway back and forth between old buildings and new ones that allow architects to contribute to the common good rather than merely stroke their narcissistic egos and flatter the narrow band of people who flutter around the work of starchitects.
      So why are publications important? Only if people know the alternative can they seek it. So find the Benjamin Marshalls and Alfred Alschulers in the cities all across America and let the people know about them.

Contributed by Carroll William Westfall
Professor Emeritus 
School of Architecture 
University of Notre Dame

Friday, November 4, 2016

Book Review: Architecture Choice or Fate

Contributed by Patrick Webb
first published on Real Finishes February 24th, 2016

Architecture Choice or Fate
by Léon Krier

So, I'll confess to being a voracious reader and I've been offering book recommendations for years; however, I thought it time to offer a little more insight into why I find these resources valuable beyond the brief blurb with the addition of proper book reviews on this blog.

Initially, a word on the author Léon Krier. Curiously we've never met although I've been one degree of separation via dozens of colleagues. He is a very accomplished traditional urban planner and architect in his own right. However, I believe his legacy is being defined by his insightful books, lectures, essays. Along with Christopher Alexander, I firmly believe Léon will be remembered as the most accomplished architectural theorist of the 20th century (Sorry Le Corbusier, your ideas might have spread like a Utopian plague across the developed world but I'm only considering agents of positive change). If there is one advantage that I would tilt in Léon's favour is that his ideas are simply explained, accessible even to the architectural novice. Architecture Choice or Fate is laid out in this easy to understand language accompanied with humorous illustrations that effectively convey the spirit of his message.

Several chapters of the book are devoted to laying out how traditional architecture and town planning is entirely compatible and more importantly socially beneficial in the modern world. I would like to focus on two chapters of particular personal interest treating with a critique of Modernism and his appeal for traditional craft.

Critique of a Modernist Ideology

The "Zeitgeist", literally translated from German as the "time ghost", more or less understood as the "spirit of an age" has been from the outset a guiding principle of Modernism. Implicit in this idea is the principle of obsolescence, in the author's description "Architecture that claims to be exclusively of its age...has its sell-by date engraved into it." And what is the interpretation of the spirit of our "Modern" age? Mass production, revolution and continuous warfare? Must our architecture embody industrial uniformity or alternatively reflect fear and uncertainty? Krier's informed opinion humanises the matter: "Authentic architecture is not the incarnation of the spirit of an age but of the spirit, full stop."

The Universal Usefulness of a Modern Craft Industry or the Fourth Industrial Revolution

The mere fact that Léon concludes his book with a chapter of the inherent value and necessity of traditional craft for any architecture that would be considered worthwhile, that recognition gives him high marks from me. Very few architects, even so-called traditional or classical architects, will acknowledge the material value or embrace the moral responsibility of an architecture that uplifts the human spirit not just in its appearance or use but in the vast multitudes physically tasked with its creation. Here he chastises two establishments who have suppressed traditional craft skills. First, the academically led institution of Historic Preservation that treats traditional architecture as an irreplaceable relic and in cultist adherence to the precepts of the Modernist principles laid out in the Venice Charter wastes funds and energy fetishising over ruins falling to dust. Léon offers a humane counter-perspective: "The value of ancient monuments does not reside in their material age but essentially in the quality of the ideas that they embody. An identical reconstruction with the same quality materials, forms and techniques that were used in the original has more value that an original in ruins...Unlike a painting by one irreplacable artist, a building is not usually a totally personal creation."

He further continues to unveil his criticisms against industrial ideology and their influence on public education policy in the Western world: "Neither the state nor industry will in future provide enough jobs to employ the utterly dependent, disoriented and confused masses released for work after fifteen years of obligatory theoretical and impractical general schooling. Ideally the goal of obligatory schooling should be to make people independent and reliant on their individual gifts and vocations rather than transforming them into dependent, passive and depressed masses...The supression of traditional craft skills represents a catastrophic impoverishment of human self-expression, a limitation of human capacity for independence and liberty."

There are of course several other chapters regarding town and city planning as well as traditional architecture that offer comparable insights. The entire work is characterised by a concern for the human spirit. In conclusion I would heartily recommend Architecture Choice or Fate as a masterfully organised, beautifully illustrated, and at under 200 pages an easy and manageable read that should be an obligatory addition for every craftsman's personal library.

Contributed by Patrick Webb
first published on Real Finishes February 24th, 2016