Monday, June 28, 2010

Hurricanes, Oil & Architecture

In February 1967, Morgan City architect Lloyd J. Guillory (born 1925) addressed the coastal region's new modernist architecture that was increasingly made possible by oil wealth:

"Architecture has always been affected by various external forces beyond the control of the architect, and here in the region of the newly formed Coastal Section of the A.I.A. there are two such forces -- oil and hurricanes. They present a challenge, either singularly or together, to test the imagination and mettle of any practicing architect. Although the oil industry has had no direct influence on architecture, as far as this writer can determine, the affluence which accompanied this remarkable industry has indeed affected our profession in this area. It has enabled us to design and erect structures which never could have been built without such wealth, as is evidenced by the Morgan City Auditorium, the largest in the country for a community of its size.

The building boom which accompanied the oil industry has also produced an unbelievable number of bad buildings, as usually occurs in any booming area. Here 'pre-fab steel' is by far the largest culprit. The lack of adequate zoning restrictions and inadequate master planning is also profusely in evidence. But, these factors make the role of the architect more necessary and definitely more challenging.

The other major force, hurricanes, had a rather negligible influence on architecture prior to hurricanes Hilda and Besty. But, after these two 150 mile per hour monsters slammed into the coast in a period of eleven months, the results dictated the future of this area in a dramatic way. The fear which accompanied these great natural disasters caused a mass exodus unequalled in modern history. We found, to our dismay, that the dangers and discomfort of these evacuations were almost as bad as staying behind to face the winds. The inadequacies of the highway system to evacuate such a large mass and the uncertainties of lodging accommodations in other cities presented great discomforts and dangers themselves. It became dramatically apparent during Betsy that with only one highway running east and west, as it does in Morgan City, there is no right way to run and be assured you are going away from the storm. If you wait long enough to make sure, you have waited too long. I mention this only to emphasize that here the architect enters into a strange and unusual role as the man responsible for the answer to this monumental problem. "

To read more, see his article "The New Architecture of Coastal Louisiana" in Louisiana Architect 6 (February 1967): pp. 9-11. The journal is available in the Louisiana Research Collection, Special Collections Division, Tulane University Libraries.

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