[Thomy Lafon School, Curtis and Davis, architects; Frank Lotz Miller, photographer; Tulane Libraries, Special Collections, Southeastern Architectural Archives. Via Regional Modernism]
Architecturally, New Orleans is perhaps best known for its Creole cottages, shotgun houses, and the mixed-influences of the French Quarter. But there is a small yet important concentration of Regional Modernism in the Big Easy and local Modernists are doing their damnedest to preserve it. Let’s just hope its not too late. Currently facing the biggest threat are 30 area schools built during the 50s — 29 of which are slated for demolition or land-banking. Take for example, the Thomy Lafon Elementary School, pictured above. While similar facilities have been appropriated and reused for civic purposes, usually to the great benefit of the neighborhood, the New Orleans School Facilities Master Plan proposes no alternative use for this building. It’s simply scheduled for closure and eventual demolition. We’ve mentioned this before on Life Without Buildings, but as the issue comes to a head, the importance of preserving Modernism in New Orleans cannot be stressed enough — especially now that New Orleans is welcoming a new generation of Regional Modernists.
There are fewer than 30 days left to make your opinions heard and join a growing chorus in support of these buildings. Comments can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. Docomomo, the Tulane School of Architecture, and the AIA are working together save these buildings, so take a minute, find your inner modernist (we’re guessing you really won’t have to look far) and drop an email to the city. To learn more, a fantastic place to start is Regional Modernism: The New Orleans Archive, a blog dedicated to the documentation and preservation of Modernism in New Orleans.
[The Thomy Lafone Elementary School today. Image via Regional Modernism]
For additional information, check out this article from Metropolis P/O/V, Docomomo New Orleans, and the Regional Modernism Flickr sets. If you’re interested in helping out but need a little inspiration, please take a moment to read the following letter, written by home-grown area architect Wayne Troyer, and originally published as a letter-to-the-editor in the August 21st Times Pic.
As we progress with the rebuilding of our public schools, we must consider not only the immediate needs of the Recovery School District and Orleans Parish School Board but the long-term goals of neighborhoods affected by the master plan.
With the extent of demolition and replacement proposed, it is imperative that as a community, we step back and evaluate the long-term loss of the culture, diversity and history that these structures represent before they are torn down and hauled to the landfill.
Complete replacement in lieu of renovations and adaptive reuse is simply reckless and immoral.
Land-banking (demolition of existing buildings, seeding the land, fencing it off and then waiting for development sometime in the future) is not a strategy for strengthening neighborhoods.
Renovation, rehabilitation and adaptive reuse of school buildings can become symbolic of the city’s ability to recover and renew itself.
Demolition and replacement show that we have lost respect for our history. The clean slate approach, at this time of scarcity and escalating cost of building materials, is simply wrong.
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