MORE THOUGHTS ON MY THESIS PROJECT AND WHAT IS AN APPROPRIATE WAY TO EXPAND AN HISTORIC BUILDING

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My Tulane Thesis Project from 1989 is the expansion of the New Orleans Museum of Art.  The project was designed in the classical manner, just like the original museum building, and in doing so, it challenged the Venice Charter of 1964, which establishes guidelines for the preservation of historic structures and sites.  The problem with the Venice Charter of 1964 is Article 9 which requires that additions to existing buildings have a “contemporary stamp.”  The charter was written when modernism dominated the architectural profession, and traditional architecture was looked down upon.  Prior to the Modernist Movement, there was no “contemporary stamp” of architecture, or at least not anything that was obvious.  Prior to the charter, an architect would design an addition to an historic building in a style that would complement the existing building;  the historic building with its new addition had to be designed as a single composition.  The real purpose for Article 9 is to allow architects disciplined in Modernism to be able to work on historic buildings with no remorse for designing something that was not in the same style as the older building.  It didn’t have anything to do with preservation of the older work.ImageImage

My proposed expansion to the New Orleans Museum of Art is similar in a lot of respects to another very well known classical building, the U. S. Capitol Building in Washington D. C.  An older version of the building had a lower copper clad dome that was designed by Architect Charles Bulfinch.  When the Senate and House wings were added onto the each end of the capitol building, the dome appeared to be too diminutive.  The architect of the new wings, Thomas U. Walter, replaced the low rise Bulfinch dome with a higher cast iron dome over a colonnaded drum, similar to Christopher Wren’s dome at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London.  The Senate and House wings were designed in a classical style, with a Corinthian Order that was extended onto the new wings, and with the heightened dome, produced a seamless classical composition.

Similarly, my expansion of the gallery spaces to the original museum building, extending the existing building’s Ionic Order, created a long, spread out building that desired to have some kind of vertical element that would be visible over the large canopy of oak trees that covered Lelong Avenue, the axial approach roadway that extended into City Park.  One slight difference is that the vertical element that I proposed was positioned behind the original building, not over it.  In fact, my proposed expansion, which included the renovation of circa 1970’s era wings on each side and replacement of a gallery addition to the rear, also built in the 1970’s, has minimal additional contact with the original building.

The vertical element that I designed is a large pavilion like structure with engaged Corinthian columns similar to those of the Choragic Monument to Lysicrates.  I chose that column style because it was the most refined of the Greek Corinthian Order, and because the original building was done in A Neo-Greek classicism, I insisted that the expansion would also be in a Greek style as well.  The dome had not been invented yet when Ancient Greeks built their temples, so capping this vertical element with a dome was out of the question.  I chose a stepped pyramid similar to the Monument at Halicarnassus, which I topped off with a statue of Isaac Delgado, the museum’s original founder.Image

What appears to be a stepped pyramid roof from the ground turns out to be in section a series of concentric square baffles positioned on carriage beams, and placed so that they are able to diffuse natural light into a skylight that is placed below on a low pitched built-up roof below.

The pavilion structure would contain a rooftop restaurant with dining terraces over the gallery wings, and with scenic views throughout City Park.

In contrast, Daniel Libeskind’s expansion of the Royal Ontario Museum takes the complete opposite approach to designing an addition to an historic building.  Here, the Venice Charter’s Article 9 mandate for a “contemporary stamp” is perverted, and the result is a metal and glass structure of random, chaotically arranged shapes graphed onto a traditional stone museum building.  It is a narcissistic kind of architecture demanding attention to itself, extending out beyond the facade of the old building, and seemingly pushing it away.  The composition of the new, tangled up, chaotic structure with the old historic building is an uncomfortable one, meant more for shock value than anything artistic.  The old building begs to be restored, with the hideous monstrosity graphed to it’s side, demolished and hauled off to a landfill somewhere.

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