Weekly Commentary with New Orleans Magazine’s Errol Laborde
City planners: Let the Deutsches Haus Look German
Making the case for architecture that doesn't "mesh well" with its surroundings
Oh my gosh. Someone wants to build a building for a German social organization and actually wants the design to look German in style. Next thing you know, someone will want to make the French Quarter look, well, you know — French.
Actually the Vieux Carre is more Spanish in design than French, but the point is that European design has long been a part of our skyline.
Nevertheless, according to a story in the New Orleans Advocate headlined “Deutsches Haus Must Revamp Design” city planners have said that the Haus’ new building should be “less Germanic-looking.” In the story, by ace reporter Jaquetta White, the planning commission staff is “concerned that the proposed design ‘does not mesh well’ with the surrounding neighborhood or the city as a whole.”
The Deutches Haus has been a popular gathering point in the city, particularly for its series of weekend Oktoberfest celebrations. A new facility is being built along Bayou St. John at Moss Street, in the vicinity of the site known as the police training academy, because the previous location on S. Galvez Street was razed as part of the new hospital project. Deutches Haus is believed to have gotten a generous settlement, which allows for the construction of a new facility.
As for the architecture, I am baffled how the design does not “mesh” well with the neighborhood. Other than the cuoplas from the Fairgrounds in the distance it is not a neighborhood with a memorable skyline or great architecture, certainly not the nearby box-like Park Esplanade Apartments.
According to White’s reporting: "The proposed design was inspired by traditional Germanic architecture including steeply pitched ‘jerkinhead’ or half-hip roofs that are embellished with a patterned tile design.” Sounds interesting to me.
Keith Oldendorf, Deutches Haus’ president, was quoted stating that the group felt that the plan, “best expresses the Germanic heritage that we would like to represent to the city... .”
Officials for the Haus say that they went through a lengthy design process and that a redo would be costly and delaying. The submitted design was by the prestigious firm Mathes Briere Architecture.
In a city somewhat respected for its architecture I can understand the commission staff’s concern about something jarring in the skyline. I would argue, however, that jarring can be good too if it is interesting. For example, there is the city that is best known for its architecture, Paris. I can think of three buildings there that did not mesh well with their surroundings. One is the Pomidou Center, a neo-modern cultural edifice that looks like it was built inside out. The other is I.M. Pei’s Pyramid, a triangular glass structure in the back yard of the Louvre that was criticized for having nothing to do with its surrounding. And lets see — what was the third one? I remember hearing that people hated it because it was like a tall needle piercing through the skyline. Oh yes, the Eiffel tower, a despised piece of architrave at the time of its construction. Across the channel, that 440 foot tall Ferris wheel on the banks of the Thames in London did not at first seem like it belong in the skyline of that city of international business and global politics. Now it is a landmark as the wheels keep turning.
If the Deutches Hauls would be allowed to do what it wants, the building would be another curiosity in a city loaded with them. The final decision will be up to the city council. May the pounding of pile rivers quickly be replaced by oom-pah-pahs along the bayou.
BOOK ANNOUNCEMENT: Errol’s Laborde’s new book, Mardi Gras: Chronicles of the New Orleans Carnival
(Pelican Publishing Company, 2013), has been released. It is now available at local bookstores and online
WATCH "INFORMED SOURCES," FRIDAYS AT 7 P.M., REPEATED AT 11:30 P.M.WYES-TV, CH. 12.