Gone, like crumbling memories, 'only' a building, yet a concrete symbol for fading hopes, dreams, memories and possibilities locked inside
June 19, 2011 11:04 PM   Subscribe

Hand Crafted Films, DOCOMOMO Louisiana and the Tulane School of Architecture present: A Plea For Modernism from Evan Mather (U.S.A., 2011, 11:59 [alternate YouTube link]).
The Phillis Wheatley Elementary School served the historic New Orleans African-American neighborhood of Tremé since it opened in 1955. Celebrated worldwide for its innovative, regionally-expressive modern design – the structure had sustained moderate damage during the storms and levee breach of 2005. DOCOMOMO Louisiana (autoplaying video) advocated for its restoration via adaptive reuse (For the Roots of Music)A Plea For Modernism is narrated by actor Wendell Pierce (“The Wire”, “Treme”).

DOCOMOMO US/Louisiana reports that less than 24 hours after receiving notice from RSD Superintendent John White, demolition of the historic Phillis Wheatley Elementary School (Charles Colbert, 1954) in the Treme-Lafitte neighborhood of New Orleans began late Friday afternoon, June 17.

The Roots of Music envisioned renovating Phillis Wheatley School as the new headquarters for its nationally acclaimed youth program. DOCOMOMO-US/LA supported this proposal, canvassing Mayor Mitch Landrieu and new RSD Superintendent John White with pleas to preserve the innovative structure -- the site of historically significant music education programs -- for adaptive reuse. Despite such efforts, on 16 June, DOCOMOMO-US/LA supporters received letters advocating demolition from Mr. White, and bulldozers circled the next day.
posted by infinite intimation (6 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I know nothing about the man, but I'm guessing from this that White is not much in tune with Treme.
posted by fredludd at 11:56 PM on June 19, 2011

A lot of modernist architecture is reaching the age where it needs either expensive rehab work, or cheaper tear-down-and-rebuild. Especially with the more brutalist stuff, a lot of it has never been all that beloved, and it won't until it is another 40 or 50 years old and starts being classic; right now it gets more put into the category of "eyesore." So I think we are going to be seeing a lot of these campaigns to try and save key buildings while they are still around over the next decade or two.
posted by Forktine at 5:41 AM on June 20, 2011

He's brand new to the job, around 30 and with only a bachelor's degree. He's a bit player, practically, a tool of someone else.
posted by raysmj at 7:19 AM on June 20, 2011

posted by DeltaZ113 at 7:21 AM on June 20, 2011

Bunk's suave voice, and classy 1950s montage aside,

This is the building we're doing the handwringing over.

It was ugly, didn't architecturally fit the neighborhood, clearly hadn't aged well, and, looks like a damned one-story office with a parking garage underneath. I've seen bank buildings repurposed into schools that look better.

Going to echo forktine here, modernist architecture becomes a maintenance nightmare, and typically adapts poorly to newer technologies/innovations. And this site screams 'tear-down-and-rebuild' (and it wasn't that pretty or popular of a building before the storm either).

While I understand that it's an 'important' building, I've more sympathy for the buildings that were razed to allows its construction.
posted by The Giant Squid at 8:05 AM on June 20, 2011

If there was an indication that this building was a maintenance nightmare, I could understand that, but I've seen nothing to suggest as much so this is pure speculation. This building had also been sitting around for years after Katrina, although it didn't flood, and it hadn't been maintained well in the first place. Many older schools in New Orleans look terrible, due to pathetic to nonexistent long-term maintenance, so it's not a modernism thing.
posted by raysmj at 8:24 AM on June 20, 2011

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