Imagining New Orleans


Architects imagine.

Lately most of my imagination has been focused on Tulane University and New Orleans. This is a city that escapes simplistic description, and it feels almost pointless to try. Nonetheless it is my home now, and I am tempted to capture some fleeting images - the city’s sultry, elusive, intense and deeply flawed beauty; its precarious relationship to the ecological context; its hubris; its comedy; its satire. It is a city of extremes, a place of propriety and excess - completely and ultimately beyond rational description at its core. It is a place of joy and exuberance; a place of pain and suffering and inequity that can find few parallels elsewhere in North America. I am imagining a tragic place that must become more harmonious and just to survive in the years to come.

Architecture has always been important to New Orleans, as a cast of animated characters in the drama of this city and as an excuse for sentimental infatuation or benign neglect. Fortunately for my discipline and profession, imagining architecture as an abundant source of inspiration has motivated architectural educators and students in diverse, provocative, and often conflicted ways. As agents of change, students and teachers find “imagining” to be crucial in support of the commitment and optimism needed to fuel the hard and rewarding work of design. I believe in my heart that these attributes can lead to positive and productive change for New Orleans.

The seemingly pedestrian definitions of “imagine,” found in the Merriam-Webster dictionary, operate as an initial guide to architectural experience and the discipline of design, while also functioning as a translucent scrim, revealing and hiding inherent qualities at the same time. While these attributes apply to many activities of humankind, they are all quite specifically embedded in architectural education, and they are essential for any designer:

  • to form a mental image of (something not actually present to the senses).
  • to think, believe, or fancy.
  • to assume; suppose.
  • to conjecture; guess.
  • archaic - to plan, scheme, or plot.
  • to form mental images of things not present to the senses.
  • to suppose; think; conjecture.

I am excited to be at the Tulane School of Architecture and in the City of New Orleans. I am imagining the next several years.

Kenneth Schwartz, FAIA

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