Few American cities embody “place” quite like New Orleans, where European, African, and Caribbean traditions are blended in a kind of cultural jambalaya. The city’s architecture reflects this same multiculturalism, particularly in the French Quarter, which still bears the lasting imprint of Spanish rulers. Their insistence on masonry construction produced an explosion of Creole townhouses—buildings with thick, solid walls punctuated by breezeways leading to courtyards, fountains, and lush interior gardens.
These European antecedents of the old city were inspiration for lead design architect Steve Dumez, whose design for a new high-rise apartment tower at 930 Poydras Street draws on the building patterns of the city’s historic quarter—and their social implications. “New Orleans really does not have a tradition of urban, high-rise living,” says Dumez, design director at Eskew+Dumez+Ripple. “So we looked at the French Quarter to reinterpret the notion of a shared, semi-private domain for a small community.”
His scheme for the 21-story apartment building in the city’s business district does just that, seeking to create a sense of community among its residents. In this case, however, people proceed to the semi-private realm along a vertical, rather than horizontal, path. Placed on top of a rectangular podium consisting of eight levels of parking, the L-shaped residential tower consolidates tenant amenities on the ninth floor. This level functions like the inner courtyard of a Creole townhouse—a shared space that is the social heart of the complex.
Anchoring the ninth floor is the sky lobby, a dramatic glass box that cantilevers off the building façade. This double-height lounge—which features polished concrete floors, bar counters set into bright yellow walls, and informal groupings of furniture—serves as an extension of tenants’ living spaces. It also houses the elevators serving the residential floors.
Outside the sky lobby is the pool deck, with tiered seating rising alongside the narrow pool. Tucked beneath the bleachers is the facility’s fitness center. Five two-story townhouses create an architectural edge along the south side of the deck, producing the effect of a courtyard on the garage rooftop.
In order to make the project work financially, Dumez had to scale back his vision for an all-glass tower. Exhaustive cladding studies resulted in 35 percent glass coverage on the skin. “It was an interesting dilemma,” admits Dumez, who turned the limitation into a design opportunity. He devised an animated fenestration pattern with tinted, low-E glass arranged in a field of slate gray steel panels. Most of the glass is concentrated on the upper floors to bring light into the apartments.
As the project advanced through the planning process, city staffers lobbied to include ground-level retail along Poydras Street. “We had absolutely no concerns with that,” Dumez says. “We think it provides a better urban condition and a better streetscape.” Three retail spaces were included, and a restaurant already occupies one of them.
Although it looks backward to the fabric of 19th century New Orleans, 930 Poydras demonstrates that good urbanism is alive and well in the 21st century, too.