An influential architect, photographer, and early preservation leader, Richard Koch pioneered the adaptive reuse of historic buildings in New Orleans and led the Louisiana office of the Historic American Buildings Survey.
An architect and proficient photographer, Richard Koch was a pioneering force in the early decades of preservation in New Orleans. Upon his graduation from Tulane University School of Architecture in 1910, Koch spent two years studying at Atelier Bernier in Paris and a few years working in the Northeast before founding his first New Orleans architectural firm in 1916.¹ Koch and his partner, Charles R. Armstrong, became the city’s first practitioners of adaptive reuse, now a cornerstone of preservation work, and developed a reputation for historically sensitive design. Their auditorium for the Le Petit Théâtre du Vieux Carré (1922), for instance, was among the first modern buildings in the Vieux Carré to blend with its historic surroundings.² Koch’s work in the Vieux Carré during the 1920s helped fuel a renewed interest in the deteriorating neighborhood, which ultimately led to the establishment of the Vieux Carré Commission the following decade.
In 1934, Koch was appointed to lead the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) in Louisiana, a federal program created by the National Park Service to document each state’s architectural heritage.³ With a team of nineteen architects and draftsmen and two photographers, Koch oversaw the documentation of dozens of the state’s most valuable historic structures over a period of seven years.⁴ This opportunity to closely study Louisiana’s early architecture heavily informed Koch’s subsequent design work and also introduced him to his future collaborator, Samuel Wilson Jr., who began working in Koch’s office in 1935 and joined him as partner in 1955. Together, Koch and Wilson restored many of the city’s most notable buildings, including the Cabildo, the Pontalba apartments, the Ursuline Convent, and Gallier House.⁵
1. Julie H. McCollam, “Richard Koch,” in KnowLA Encyclopedia of Louisiana, edited by David Johnson (Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, 2010–). Article published January 31, 2011.
2. Frank Masson, “Richard Koch,” in The New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture, Volume 21: Art and Architecture (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2013), 359.
3. Abbye Gorin, ed. Conversations with Samuel Wilson, Jr., Dean of Architectural Preservation in New Orleans (New Orleans: Louisiana Landmarks Society), 10.
4. McCollam, “Richard Koch.”
5. Robert Cangelosi, “Samuel Wilson Jr.,” in KnowLA Encyclopedia of Louisiana, edited by David Johnson (Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, 2010–). Article published January 25, 2011.
Suggestions for Additional Reading and Research
Koch and Wilson Office Records. Southeastern Architectural Archive, Tulane University.
Poesch, Jessie, and Barbara SoRelle Bacot, eds. Louisiana Buildings, 1720-1940: The Historic American Buildings Survey. Baton Rouge: LSU Press, 1997.
Richard Koch Drawings and Photographs. Southeastern Architectural Archive, Tulane University.