As former dean of Tulane University’s School of Architecture, John W. Lawrence left a legacy in historic preservation as well as modern planning and design.
New Orleanian John W. Lawrence was a contemporary architect, planner, and educator who championed historic preservation as an essential investment in the city’s future. His belief that a successful modern city must incorporate its past characterized his role as dean of Tulane University’s School of Architecture, a position he filled in 1960 after a decade of teaching at the school.¹ In his 1966 foreword to Professor Bernard Lemann’s influential preservation text, Vieux Carré: A General Statement, Lawrence wrote that “the continued existence of buildings and places which can give a city a dimension in time must be seen as a necessary part of environment understood as a seamless fabric.”² In an era of destructive urban renewal projects and suburban sprawl, Lawrence’s influential support—and by extension the institutional support of the School of Architecture—was vital to a number of preservation achievements in the 1960s.
Among his most notable contributions to the field was his leadership role in the Vieux Carré Survey, a comprehensive building inventory that the Louisiana Landmarks Society and Vieux Carré Commission (VCC) began in 1960.³ The Edward G. Schlieder Educational Foundation offered enough financial support to sustain the project for another five years, but it required that an educational institution be the beneficiary.⁴ Lawrence agreed to disburse the grant through Tulane and headed the project’s advisory board, which also included Lemann, businessman Leonard V. Huber, preservation architect Samuel Wilson Jr., architect Richard Koch, General L. Kemper Williams, founder of The Historic New Orleans Collection, artist Boyd Cruise, and historian Edith Long.⁵ By aligning himself with the survey, Lawrence made it clear that Tulane, in addition to promoting modern design and methodologies, recognized the significance of the city’s most historic locale and the value of investigating its history of development.
Lawrence’s other accomplishments include his award-winning design for St. Bernard Methodist Church (1954) in Chalmette, completed in partnership with architects George A. Saunders and John Dinwiddie, and his role in 1969 as the project director of a Tulane School of Architecture study of the Vieux Carré waterfront.⁶ He remained dean of the school until his untimely death in 1971. His son, John H. Lawrence, is currently director of museum programs at The Historic New Orleans Collection.⁷
1. Bernard Lemann, Malcolm Heard, and John P. Klingman, eds., Talk About Architecture: A Century of Architectural Education at Tulane (New Orleans: Tulane University School of Architecture, 1993), 153.
2. John W. Lawrence, foreword to The Vieux Carré: A General Statement, by Bernard Lemann (New Orleans: Tulane University School of Architecture, 1966), 3.
3. The Historic New Orleans Collection, “History of the Vieux Carré Survey.”
4. Florence M. Jumonville, Guide to the Vieux Carré Survey (New Orleans: The Historic New Orleans Collection, 1990), 18-21.
5. Jumonville, Guide to the Vieux Carré Survey, 19-20.
6. DOCOMOMO US/Louisiana, “New Orleans: Most Progressive Architecture Awards, 1955”; “Dedication Set at New Church,” The Times-Picayune, October 23, 1954; and Tulane University School of Architecture, A Study of the Vieux Carré Waterfront in the City of New Orleans Conducted Under a Grant From the National Endowment for the Arts (New Orleans: Tulane School of Architecture, 1969), 57.
7. Leslie Gale Parr, "John Lawrence," in KnowLA Encyclopedia of Louisiana, edited by David Johnson (Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, 2010–). Article published September 12, 2012.