project: Prospect.1 New Orleans
client: U.S. Biennial Inc.
location: New Orleans
One of North America's most distinctive port cities, New Orleans is known around the world for its complex and vibrant culture—a place where Creole cuisine, folk art, jazz, brass bands, and a melánge of languages, influences, and people merge in a shared identity that transcends its diverse population. So, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, it isn't surprising that people from all over the globe rallied to support its on-going recovery. Among the many contributions to the city was Prospect.1 New Orleans, the largest biennial of international contemporary art ever organized in the United States. Its aim was to help redevelop the city as a cultural destination. And the biennial's imaginative Welcome Center—designed by New Orleans-based Eskew+Dumex+Ripple as the starting point for the citywide exhibition—was in its own way a reflection of New Orleans' international cultural heritage.
Organized by curator Dan Cameron, the director of U.S. biennials for the Contemporary Art Center in New Orleans, the exhibition showcased the work of 81 artists from 39 countries in 22 museums, historic buildings, warehouses, and other "found" locations throughout the city from November 2008 through January 2009. The curator asked Eskew+Dumez+Ripple to help him lay the foundation for the exhibition by facilitating permits and regulatory approvals in several of the locations that would house the various works of art. He also asked the architects to design the exhibition's Welcome Center in the historic Heffler warehouse building in downtown New Orleans' Warehouse Arts District.
Funded in part by a $10,000 grant from the Downtown Development District, the Welcome Center served as the first link for visitors to the exhibition as well as a conduit to other arts-related events around the city. "We wanted its design to relate to a symbol of New Orleans," says principal designer Steven Dumez. "Originally, we wanted to adapt an existing shipping container as a reflection of New Orleans and its connection to the world through the port, but modifying it would have been too labor-intensive, time-consuming, and costly, so we designed an abstract version and made it of plywood instead."
Designed and built in just five weeks, the sculptural, 300-sq.-ft. structure-within-a-structure was approached by a ramp that led to a reception desk and shelves containing maps, literature, pamphlets, and other descriptive information about the exhibition and the city. Next to the desk—and backdrop, counter, and shelves behind it—a 20-ft. by 20-ft. container-like volume, supported by a ribbed wooden armature and housing a series of tables, chairs, and refreshments, was designed as a kind of landing pad for visitors before they set off on their journeys.
Constructed as a temporary facility, the artful structure nonetheless played a pivotal role as a gateway to this important event as well as to the city itself. And for those who visited the exhibition, it also will likely remain one of many memorable threads in their experience of the rich cultural tapestry of New Orleans.
“The design is smart, efficient, and appropriate. There is a great cohesion in its simplicity, and it allows the character of the materials to emerge. This project also speaks to creating a space that shows a great deal of hope for the power of design, regardless of the budget. The economy of means coupled with the inventiveness of this idea captured all of us.”
Project: Prospect.1 Welcome Center. Client: U.S. Biennial, Inc. Architect: Eskew+Dumez+Ripple. General contractor: Miller Engelhardt of Canal Construction of Louisiana. Furniture dealer: Associated Office Systems. Photographer: Will Crocker Photography.
Wallcoverings: Arauco Plywood. Outdoor seating: Jorge Pensi Toledo Collection. Architectural woodworking: Canal Construction of Louisiana. Signage: Jacob Ross, Ritchie Katko, Jakob Rosenzweig.
location: New Orleans, LA. Total floor area: 300 sq. ft. No. of floors: 1. Cost/sq. ft.: $93.