Big Names in the Big Easy

While many New Orleans residents are still concerned with rebuilding their homes, their neighborhoods and their lives, the city is also embarking on an effort ...
by | November 14, 2006
 

Nola_riverfront_1 While many New Orleans residents are still concerned with rebuilding their homes, their neighborhoods and their lives, the city is also embarking on an effort to reimagine and redesign its riverfront.

And architects are jumping at the chance to be a part of it. Nine teams of architects from across the globe responded to the invitation to help plan the redevelopment. The list included some of the design community's biggest "starchitects," like Frank Gehry, Zaha Hadid and  Daniel Libeskind.

Is this a good idea? On the one hand, it's laudable that the city wants a cohesive plan for redeveloping the public land along the Mississippi. Hurricane Katrina seems to have provided the stimulus for the city to develop a cohesive vision for the riverfont, something New Orleans has been talking about for 30 years.

But I worry that the big name of a celebrity architect might actually work against the city here. Does New Orleans need a signature imprint from a renowned architect? I don't think it does. Should New Orleans' riverfront be defined by, say, a swooping new metal-and-glass Frank Gehry opera house? I don't think it should. Not right now, at least.

Having a unified plan for rebuilding is definitely a good idea. And the goals of the project -- more public space, more connection between the city and the river -- are great. It just seems like this is a time for reasoned, smart development for the city. It's not a chance for a world-famous architect to make his mark on the Crecent City.

None of the architects' responses to the city were really got into specifics, so all my fretting could be for naught. Perhaps none of them is trying to push a grand personal vision for New Orleans.

I hope that's the case. This rebuilding effort calls for humility, not celebrity.

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