Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Architecture & Carnival

As reported by Architectural Art and Its Allies March 1912:

"Now that the carnival is past and gone for another twelve month [sic], the decorations have disappeared, the stands come down, the props been knocked from under many a veranda, and life has assumed its normal flow again, we may well dismiss the subject; but before doing so, it might not be out of place to stop to consider for an instant a matter which is but incidental to the festivalbut which has a marked effect upon the appearance of the business portion of the city and the comfort of the people.

From time immemorial it has been custom to span at will the sidewalks of any and all New Orleans streets with verandas, which take many and divers shapes, from the attractive and architectural balcony to the mere shed roof, without which no corner grocery is complete. By far the prevailing type on the main thoroughfares has been a light structure, resting on iron columns at the curb and railed above with one or another of the few designs of cast iron rail for which the foundries have carried patterns since the forties. These verandas serve throughout the year to shelter the shopping crowds from sun and rain, and would seem to suggest Bellamy's Eutopian [sic] general umbrella. They are not different from isolated examples elsewhere, but their prevalence in New Orleans makes them conspicuous.

During the carnival, with their tiers of seats filled with laughing people, they add much to the enjoyment of the pageants, but they have their drawbacks. Thus far they have not received the serious consideration of architects that they should have. Their frail construction makes it necessary each year to shore them up with row on row of braces, which greatly impede the circulation of crowds beneath, at a time when the uninterrupted space is most seriously needed, and give the stranger the impression the buildings of which they are part, are unsafe.

They obstruct light and some architects have essayed to reduce them to mere suspended awnings at impost heigh, with transoms of prism glass above, but to those who recall the old days, when cafes made hanging gardens of them and spread their delicacies al fresco as on a Parisian boulevard, it would seem that the proper regulation as to height and strength to carry any carnival load, without obstructing the sidewalk, the veranda might be retained upon Canal and other broad streets of the business section, and given architectural effect as that of the Madison Square Garden of New York, but the veranda should be banished altogether from the narrow streets and residential avenues, where every impulse should be for light and air and freedom from unsightly objects, which impair the vista. As these verandas are an encroachment on the public domain, and are only permitted on sufferance, the city would be justified in refusing to issue permits for them altogether on neutral ground boulevards and in the business section, when their construction will require obstructive bracing to carry a crowd. The money spent year afer year for bracing these galleries would pay many times over for members of larger size in their original construction." [unknown author, p. 12]

Addendum: The Times-Picayune reported that a French Quarter balcony collapsed on Friday, 18 March 2011. See Chris Granger's photos here.

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