Inflate and Imbibe: Art and Architecture meet in a New Orleans Courtyard

[Des Cours Installation, original photo]

In December, I participated in Des Cours, a week-long art exhibition in New Orleans organized by The Big Easy’s chapter of the American Institute of Architects. A team made up of Fred Stivers, Sergio Padilla, and myself was invited with twelve other international teams of artists and architects to create installations in thirteen courtyards throughout downtown New Orleans. The spaces of Des Cours are private, hidden spaces. Spaces often unknown by the hundreds – if not thousands – of people who walk by them every day. Des Cours encourages artists to create installations that use new materials, methods, technology and interactivity to present a unique opportunity for viewing contemporary design within a historic setting. Our submittal: a nearly 100-foot-long inflatable structure in Tennessee Williams’ old courtyard.

[Des Cours Installation, original photo]

The large brick courtyard on Dumaine St. includes a swimming pool installed by the famous playwright. Over this, we built our structure. Our team was fascinated with the powerful juxtapositions we find rampant throughout contemporary New Orleans — history and modernity; rough and the smooth; relaxation and tension — and we wanted to built a simple structure to reflect these relationships while also

[Des Cours Installation, original photo]

In reference to the courtyard’s previous owner, scenes from A Streetcar Named Desire are projected onto the interior surface of the bubble, but visible from both the interior and exterior. From the main entrance, just the end of the bubble is visible, and as one enters the courtyard, it dramatically and surprisingly expands to fill nearly the entire length of the courtyard with the movement of abstracted cinema. Additionally, the entire structure is illuminated by an LED lighting system that cycles from a cool blue to a whorehouse red in response to the presence of people inside the structure. The patina of the existing brick walls and pavers is contrasted with the smooth animated surface of the inflatable.

[Des Cours Installation, original photo]

As you can see from the photos, opening night was a success (thanks in large part to the Jazz Vipers and a Ketel One Sponsorship) and the entire Des Cours event earned a great right up in Times Picayune. Personally, it was a joy to work on something real again. After a full semester of doing little more than research and writing (which I do also enjoy), it felt good to change things up for a few weeks and work at a scale big enough to actually occupy. Plus, getting out of the cold and spending the occasional Winter weekend in New Orleans wasn’t so bad.

[Des Cours Installation, original photo]

Many thanks to all the artists, hosts, and everyone involved at the AIA in organizing the event! To read more on inflatables (which seem to be experiencing a sort of renaissance) and like-minded architects, check out this review of Raumlabor’s recent installation for Storefront and the Life Without Buildings Ant Farm archive.

[Des Cours Installation, original photo]