Thursday, April 29, 2010

Infrastructure: Streets of New Orleans

Reported by today's Times-Picayune, New Orleans roadways are undergoing extensive repairs.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Men at Work 1903

William A. Radford founded the Radford Architectural Company (1902-c. 1926) in Chicago, Illinois as a publishing house for technical books. He hired architects and draftsmen to design plans and develop specifications for residential, commercial, and agricultural structures that he published in his expanding market of books and monthly trade journals. The Radford Architectural Company has been credited with contributing to the popularization of the Prairie School style, for its Special Department of architects and draftsmen (illustrated above) frequently produced Prairie, Arts and Crafts, Mission and Craftsmen-styled designs. Customers could make special requests for individualized plans, specifications and cost estimates, although many builders were content with the stock plans developed for such company publications as Radford's Artistic Homes: 250 Designs (1908) and The Radford American Homes (1903).

Between 1902 and 1926, architects and draftsmen such as G.W. Ashby, W.H. Schroeder, Alfred Sidney Johnson, Bernard L. Johnson, Charles Godfrey Peker, Loring H. Provine and Ervin Kenison created over 1000 plans for Radford.1 An important precursor to prefabricated architecture, catalog homes proved widely popular across America: over 100,000 were built between 1903 and 1940.2

Image above: Radford's Special Department. As illustrated in The Radford American Homes (Riverside, IL: Radford Architectural Company, 1903).

1 Kathy L. Morgan. "Gulder House," National Register of Historic Places Registration Form. Listed 7 January 2010.
2 The Frederick Law Olmsted Society of Riverside. "2008: Architecture Award." URL:

Monday, April 26, 2010

Longview Camellias

The Garden Library of the New Orleans Town Gardeners, located in Tulane University's Southeastern Architectural Archive, retains records associated with a 1930's-1940's Alabama camellia nursery business.

In 1915, Robert O. Rubel, Jr. began growing camellias at his Longview estate in Crichton. His Oriental garden was planted there in 1917, its entrance at the terminus of a pine thicket. By 1928, Rubel sought to develop scientific data sets recording his exhaustive soil analyses and hoped to disseminate this information to all camellia growers. He also became an avid forager, locating unusual camellia varieties in rural gardens and purchasing them for other collectors. He considered camellias "the most valuable ornamental plants in commerce" and sought to educate his customers about proper nomenclature, growing habits, and horticultural history. A book collector as well as a gardener, Rubel acquired a library of camellia books and manuscripts, which he touted as "the only trustworthy source" for correctly identifying plant names. He commissioned ex libris cards for his book collection, and stored his precious volumes in a fireproof safe.

Between 1931 and 1932, Rubel sold thirteen carloads of collected specimens to one South Carolina customer, a transaction that he believed to be the largest sale of camellias since their introduction to Europe in the early eighteenth century. The meticulous plantsman sold his camellias with embossed copper labels attached to each plant, so that the tag could serve as a permanent means of correct identification.

The Garden Library is open to researchers Mondays-Fridays from 9-12 and 1-5.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

107 Years Ago: Contractors Balk

Bar Northern Architect: New Orleans Contractors Refuse to Build Church Not Designed by a Southerner

Special to the New York Times 5 April 1903 reported:

"Because local contractors would not bid on plans submitted by a Northern architect, the erection of a new church has been delayed indefinitely, and the golden jubilee celebration, which had been planned by the Rev. Carl J. Cramer of St. John's German Evangelical Lutheran Church, has been indefinitely postponed.

The jubilee celebration would have been held to-morrow, Palm Sunday, had it not been for the stand taken by the contractors of the city. Now the church authorities have decided to commemorate the occasion by a minor ceremony and postpone the real celebration until after the plans have been drawn and submitted by some New Orleans architect, and the new church constructed.

Dr. Cramer is a native of Fort Wayne, Ind., and his wife is from Milwaukee. One of his close friends is a Detroit architect, and he supplied the plans on the request of the pastor. They were unanimously accepted by the congregation several months ago, and bids were sought. When the contractors learned that a Northern architect had drawn the plans all declined to undertake the project."

The project was delayed another twenty years and eventually New Orleans architect Sam Stone, Jr. (1869-1933) received the commission. The Southeastern Architectural Archive retains the office records of Sam Stone, Jr. as well as predecessor and successor firms. Click here to see the collection inventory.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Thermo-Con Cellular Concrete

In the 1950s, the New Orleans-based Higgins Incorporated advertised its patented Thermo-Con Cellular Concrete System. Higgins touted its concrete as an admixture of Portland Cement, water, and "three chemicals" (actually aluminum flake, caustic soda, and bituminous emulsion). The company's advertising department took pains to communicate the product's heat-shielding properties (demonstrated by image above) and to distinguish its approach from any correlation to prefabrication:

The Thermo-Con cellular concrete system is in no way a pre-fabricated construction method. The forms are designed on a one-foot modular principle and can be arranged to fit any desired plan for a home or commercial building. Any architectural style may be chosen and interior space arranged to suit individual needs.

In 1949, New Orleans architects Sporl and Maxwell (Edward Sporl and Murvan "Scotty" Maxwell) designed a luxury Thermo-Con house (images above) for company founder Andrew Higgins (1886-1952). The Southeastern Architectural Archive retains construction drawings for the Higgins House in its Maxwell and LeBreton Office Records Collection. See photographic images on Regional Modernism's flickr set here. See and read about another Thermo-Con house here. The Thermo-Con Lakemoore Apartment Complex (1950), built in suburban Atlanta by businessman Wiley Lemuel Moore , was ultimately converted to a condo colony, the earliest condominium conversion in the city (1969). The buildings are still standing with some minor alterations to the exteriors.

After World War II, Andrew Higgins had originally hoped to develop "Thermo-Namel" homes, prefabricated structures made of enamel-coated steel. A national steel shortage forced the entrepreneur to postpone Thermo-Namel and develop Thermo-Con instead. He claimed that his new concrete foaming agent could expand a Portland cement and water mixture by 40%, and would result in a lightweight cellular concrete " 'of great insulation value and high tensile strength.'"(1)

Documents related to Higgins Industries and Higgins Resources reside in the Vertical Files of Tulane University's Louisiana Research Collection (LaRC) and in the University of New Orleans' Earl K. Long Library.

(1)"No Steel, Higgins Halts on Housing."
The Times-Picayune 5 August 1947: p. 1 as it appears in the database America's Historical Newspapers.

Images above from Higgins Inc. Booklet No. 72, SEAA Trade Catalogs Collection.

Monday, April 19, 2010

A Modernist Architect Cooks

New Orleans architect Harold E. Piqué (1921-2001), a Tulane University School of Architecture graduate ('42) and later Tulane Resident Architect and Head of the University Planning Office, designed the Musicians' Union Hall at 2401 Esplanade Avenue (1957).

In 1988, he authored a cookbook titled An Architect's Interpretation of Creole Cuisine, which he introduced with the following words:

"My architectural and engineering training fostered an inquisitive desire to experiment with creativity. This eventually resulted in acquisition of more than two hundred cookbooks, extensive research for authenticity and many hours in the kitchen."

The cookbook includes a photocopy of his portrait, as well as reproductions of his food sketches. By contemporary standards, the recipes favor large quantities of bacon fat and butter. Here is his rendition of Shrimp Creole:

3/4 c. bacon grease
1/2 c. gravy flour
2 sticks butter
2 c. coarsely chopped onion
1 c. coarsely chopped celery (use primarily the leaves)
1 1/2 c. slivered bell pepper
1/2 c. finely chopped parsley
2 minced garlic cloves
5 bay leaves
1 tsp. Tobasco
2 tsp. thick rich beef base or beef concentrate
1 8-oz. can tomato sauce
1 16-oz. can tomatoes, slivered
4 1/2 ounces tomato paste
10 lbs (weight before peeling) small peeled shrimp, raw
6 c. shrimp stock
3 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp. powdered thyme
1/2 tsp. each: basil, ground cumin, oregano powder
1 tsp. each: chili powder, paprika

1. Sauté chopped vegetable seasoning except parsley in bacon grease until wilted. In separate pot make dark roux with flour and 1/2 of butter. While still hot, add tomato paste and tomato sauce. After cooling, add stock and vegetable seasoning. Cook on low heat about 1/2 hour.

2. Sauté shrimp in remaining butter in separate pot until pink. Combine all ingredients, then add shrimp to main pot and cook another + or - 10 minutes. Seasoning must be done after all ingredients are together to be effective. Adjust seasoning on completion. Add parsley during last 10 minutes.

Do not overcook. Shrimp should be very tender.

Make shrimp stock by boiling heads and shells + or - 2 hours with onions, bay leaves, celery, parsley sprigs, bell pepper and salt. Vegetable seasoning listed for stock are not part of ingredients listed for recipe.

The Southeastern Architectural Archive retains a copy of Piqué's cookbook signed by the author.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Field Trip: Annapolis, Maryland

In 1957-58, Austrian-born architect Richard Neutra (1892-1970) designed the 99,000-square-foot Mellon Hall and Frances Scott Keys Auditorium at St. John's College in Annapolis, Maryland. Although St. John's College and surrounding Annapolis are permeated with colonial-era architecture, Richard Weigle, then St. John's College president, wanted a structure that embodied the very finest in modern architecture. Neutra offered the services of his California-based firm Neutra + Alexander for less than its normal fee. He conducted research on campus by soliciting input from faculty and students, studying the school's classic-books curriculum and attending its Socratic method classes.

The building was renowned in its day for its environmentally-conscious motor-operated aluminum louvers that could control incoming natural light according to external conditions.

In 2002, the Great Books college completed a $12.9 restoration project on the structure.

In other Neutra news, the United States District Court for the District of Columbia has halted the National Park Service's plans to demolish Neutra + Alexander's 1961 Cyclorama Building. Read more here.

Images above: Richard Neutra, architect. Courtyard of Mellon Hall, St. John's College, Annapolis, Maryland. Completed 1959. As photographed 10 April 2010 by K. Rylance.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Changes at Library of Congress

Walker Evans. Movie Theatre on St. Charles Street, New Orleans, Louisiana. 1935 or 1936. Farm Security Administration Image LC-USF342- 001285, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

The Library of Congress has recently changed its Prints and Photographs Division On-Line Catalog, which includes images from the Historic American Buildings Survey and the Farm Security Administration/Office of War. The new Interface has more robust search capabilities, and features easy ways to share and save links to selected images.

It also has a new URL:

Sample searches are posted with a Flickr set,

Link changes have been made on Tulane University Research Guides pages for Architecture and Historic Preservation:

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Living with Water

Reported by Mark Schleifstein in today's Times Picayune:

"A group of American and Dutch architects and urban planners will meet in New Orleans this week for a third session aimed at finding ways to better incorporate water into the city's effort to rebuild more safely after Katrina.

Dutch Dialogues 3 is meeting in tandem with the annual conference of the American Planning Association, and will announce its results at a public forum Sunday at 10 a.m. at the Hilton New Orleans Riverside hotel.

The participants will focus on a segment of the city stretching from the Lafitte Corridor abutting the French Quarter -- an abandoned railroad right-of-way that was once the site of a canal that connected the Quarter to Bayou St. John -- to the lakefront, including City Park and a section of Gentilly.

"New Orleans has a history of having had water in it and then moving away from the water," said David Waggonner III, a principal of Waggonner & Ball Architects of New Orleans.

But in the 20th and 21st centuries, New Orleanians shut itself from the water, hemming in the Mississippi River with levees and draining the backswamp with massive pumps and drainage canals that hid the water from view.

The planners hope to spur redesigns of sections of the city where waterways, urban wetlands and green, open areas can be used to store additional rainfall or where developed areas are redesigned to better hold rainwater through use of new absorbent street and sidewalk building materials or adoption of cisterns and other water-storage containers.

Planners from the Netherlands will share their knowledge of similar efforts adopted in that country, with a recognition that differences in New Orleans' geology and climate will require significant adjustments.

Former wetlands on which Gentilly and other suburban neighborhoods were built used to keep the city's geology buoyant, Waggonner said. Today, vast areas of the city have sunk to as much as 6 feet below sea level, the unintended result of those areas being drained by canals that suck up the water that had kept the soil elevated.

The trick, he said, is to find ways of reintroducing water into soils in ways to reduce subsidence, and in finding ways of transforming the canals into spaces attractive to the public.

Alternatives could include the adoption of plans already backed by state and city officials to turn the London and Orleans avenue canals into a gravity-fed drainage system by building permanent pump stations at the lakefront that would replace existing interior pump stations.

The Army Corps of Engineers already has decided to build a combination gate and pump station on the London Avenue Canal that would operate only in the event of a hurricane, and would pump in tandem with the existing interior pumps. However, its design for that and two other stations on the 17th Street and Orleans Avenue canals allow the stations to be adjusted if the gravity-fed system is adopted in the future.

islands-lake.JPGNew islands along Lake Pontchartrain could assist in reducing the risk of storm surge and protect levees, planners say.

The designers also will study ways to redesign the flow of water in City Park to allow storage of more water during storms, while also providing more access to water habitats for the public, similar to the use of canals in Amsterdam and other Dutch cities, Waggonner said.

In perhaps the most radical concept, the planners will look at ways to develop new islands along Lake Pontchartrain that can assist in reducing the risk of storm surge and protect levees, while adding public parks and green space to the city.

Sponsors of the dialogue include the Royal Netherlands Embassy in Washington, D.C., the Netherlands Water Partnership, Waggonner & Ball Architects and the American Planning Association."

More information is available on the Web at

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Print Publications & Architectural History

The Buell Conference on the History of Architecture: In Print Sponsored by The Temple Hoyne Buell Center for the Study of American Architecture

16-17 April 2010

This inaugural Buell Conference on the History of Architecture considers emerging directions in scholarly publishing on architecture and related fields within the North American academy. Conceived bibliographically, the conference brings together recent authors on diverse subjects to present new, unpublished work to be discussed in relation to their books and those of their colleagues. Its subject matter encompasses architecture, urbanism, and modernity broadly understood.

Today, publication remains central to maintaining those overlapping spheres in which discourse forms, circulates, is reproduced, and is contested. By inquiring into different modes of history writing, the conference explores interactions between architectural scholarship, interdisciplinary exchange, and shifting discursive contours.

In particular, the conference asks: What kinds of intellectual constellations, if any, are forming in the new scholarship? What are their primary concerns, their premises, and their debates? What role(s) do books play in these formations? At a time when academic publishing is under increased pressure, the conference also affirms the contributions made by such work to defining the parameters of academic inquiry more broadly, and of architecture and urbanism more

Conference Schedule

Friday 16 April 2010

Welcome and introductory remarks
Reinhold Martin, Director
Buell Center, Columbia University

Books and Buildings: Obsolescence and Sustainability
Daniel M. Abramson, Tufts University

Space, Information, and the Public Sphere
Richard Wittman, University of California, Santa Barbara

Respondent: Ed Eigen, Princeton University

Desprez’s Linneanum: Classification, Hybridization and the Question of Architectural Order
Erika Naginski, Harvard University

Experiencing Architecture and Embodying Citizenship in the Early Republic
David Serlin, University of California, San Diego

Respondent: Can Bilsel, University of San Diego

Saturday 17 April 2010

Birds of a Feather
Hadas Steiner, University of Buffalo

Arcosanti vs. Onecity
Larry Busbea, University of Arizona

Respondent: Mary Louise Lobsinger, University of Toronto

Building Virtual Cities: 1895-1945
Jennifer S. Light, Northwestern University

What Is a House?
Jonathan Massey, Syracuse University

Respondent: David Smiley, Barnard College

Modern Architecture, Colonialism and Race in Fascist Italy
Brian L. McLaren, University of Washington

Inventing Early Modern Architecture at the Museum of Modern Art
Joanna Merwood-Salisbury, Parsons The New School for Design

Respondent: Claire Zimmerman, University of Michigan

Beyond the Quotidian: Narratives of Modern Architecture and Everyday
Life in France
Tom McDonough, Binghamton University

Habitations: On Bodily Habit and Architecture
Aron Vinegar, The Ohio State University

Respondent: Zeynep Çelik Alexander, Columbia University

All events take place in Wood Auditorium, Avery Hall, Columbia University

The Temple Hoyne Buell Center for the Study of American Architecture, Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, Columbia University

American-Style Garden Cities in France

Georges Benoît-Lévy (1880-1971), the Director of the Association des Cités-Jardins de France, greatly admired the model homes advertised by the Southern Pine Association. He obtained photographs and plans from the New Orleans-based business, publishing the compilation as Maisons de Campagne sans étage et bungalows (Paris: Massin, c. 1920). The simple structures -- surrounded by nature and constructed for "mid-day" -- featured sleeping porches, entry porches, and eating porches. Some of the plans included breakfast alcoves, small built-in compartments for having one's breakfast. Benoît-Lévy advocated for French architects to understand and appreciate these plans, and adapt them for regional use.

With his gaze on the United States, the French planner not only solicited such architectural documentation, but he also championed the garden city cause in American periodicals:

"Let the home stand by itself, have its own individuality, its own voices, songs, silences and life. Every family its house; every house its garden, every garden its flowers."[Architectural Record (1920): p. 188]

Benoît-Lévy was also an early supporter of Swiss architect Charles-Édouard Jeanneret-Gris, later more widely known as Le Corbusier (1887-1965):

"Monsieur Jeanneret is one of the few architects who has succeeded under the anomalous conditions caused by the war in organising a Garden Village, which, although on a small scale, will none the less be built according to the most up-to-date ideas." [The Town Planning Review (April 1918): p. 251]

Image above: R.B. Williamson, architect. Habitation for a Hot Climate, with a "Plein Air" Sleeping Porch. Plate 16, Georges Benoît-Lévy Maisons de Campagne sans étage et bungalows. Paris: Massin, c. 1920. Available in the Garden Library of the New Orleans Town Gardeners, Southeastern Architectural Archive, Special Collections Division, Tulane University Libraries.