greaseproof architecture since 2000

New Orleans slays the 20th Century

“If something isn’t from the 19th Century, it has no necessity for preservation.”

“It’s asking a lot for people to preserve something that may be younger than they are.”

“It’s almost if, “let’s remove one thing at a time and maybe nobody will notice”“.

Some quotes from a short film examining the fast approaching demolition by the City of New Orleans of the Phyllis Wheatley Elementary School in New Orleans (1955, Charles R. Colbert). This elevated truss school was one of 30 built in the ’50s, of which only four remain, with three of those tagged for demolition. It was boarded up after the Katrina Hurricane in 2005, though it suffered only superficial damage. New Orleans likes its heritage 19th Century style.

A Plea For Modernism from Evan Mather on Vimeo.

Online Petition to the Mayor of New Orleans
Facebook Page

A lengthy aside
It seems that any building worth saving these days requires a well-produced video, an online petition with a deadline and a target, and a facebook page. Then there needs to be a dedicated team prepared to push on all fronts until the campaign gathers its own steam – “goes viral”. A write up buried in the local paper is not going to do it.

Heritage preservation groups tend to try to shame the owner out of demolishing a building. Having been involved in a couple of campaigns, I think this “thou shalt not” attitude can backfire easily. If they don’t think a building has merit, they are hardly going to change their minds about it after being told that they have no idea by what they perceive to be a fringe group of nutters. Even if that group contains the likes of the World Monument Fund. This tactic will only work if that “fringe” group grows so large that it is no longer fringe, but becomes mainstream and vaguely threatening.

If the campaign doesn’t “go viral” then you could try to reason with the owners (if they will listen to you) within their own frame of reference – cost, plot ratios and marketing possibilities. That is pretty hopeful though unless you arrive very early in the piece. Another way forward is to tackle the building owners on technicalities in the planning and law courts – a time-consuming and expensive method.

Last ditch
With a bunch of others, I tried to save the Fitzroy Gardens gents toilets in 2006. They were built in 1956 for the Olympics and were demolished in 2006 to clean the park up for the Commonwealth Games. We only found out about the imminent demolition thanks to a leak from the council. Reasoning with them didn’t work. They didn’t want to reuse the toilets as something else. They were hellbent on removing structures built after 1940 from the park, removing beats from the park, and had a contract with Exeloo for a number of replacement Victoriana loos. They had Heritage Victoria on their side. With less than two days to alert people, and did so through this website, email, The Architects radio show, and The Herald Sun (The Age showed no interest). The only effect we had was to make the council commence demolition pre-dawn, prior to our advertised protest. Speaking with people as the building was being scraped away in front of us, it was agreed that the only way we could have prolonged this structure’s life would have been to be much less polite – to sit on the roof and physically prevent the front end loader from tearing it apart.

Forum thread
AA In praise of minor modernism (by me)

Getting that message out
If you are trying to save a building somewhere, videos like the one above are better than photos for bloggers like myself, as you are encouraged to embed them into your site, they will resize themselves to fit, and they contain many images. Photos by contrast lead you on a painful process of obtaining copyright (a lengthy procedure and one I have never succeeded at), downloading, resizing, uploading, inserting. Very few photographers allow embedding from their Flickr sets, even if the photos are for a cause. Videos also have the advantage that if done well, people quickly gain a sense of the arguments and the people involved, which personalises the campaign to the point that they share it with their friends.

Posted by Peter on 28.05.11 in 



New Orleans is losing 19th and early 20th century stuff too, believe or not. Despite national (but non-statutory) grading, whole blocks of modest period houses are being demolished for campus-style hospital expansion in Midcity. The NT for Histc Preservation in the US and others have fought hard for both the Deco skyscraper Charity Hospital and the houses, which are only being saved by moving them. They use vids and email campaigns and have a National base which seems to work every now and then. See their ‘top 11’ endangered places. Problem here is who has the skills and time to make videos and get them up and going, and are there enough interested parties to make it ‘viral’. Lonsdale house facebook got 2500 members, demos, plenty of press, but … both developers and govt had made up their minds ! I did have a recent modernist win lately though through official means – the shopfronts at 100 Collins, fortunately already ‘protected’, this just had to be pointed out to them it seems, plus Council was sympathetic. See Melbourne Heritage Action facebook page.

by rohan on 28/05/11 ·#

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