Toward the end of his career, Pablo Picasso lamented that he had stopped being creative and was merely “doing Picasso.” New Orleans has followed suit sometime in the past fifty years, becoming the image of the idea of itself. That doesn’t mean the jazz or the culture has disappeared, just that a simulacrum of itself has been interpolated into the French Quarter in such a way that a visitor can’t get a sense of the beast for all the taxidermy. I only had a morning to spend in the area due to nuptials elsewhere, but my perception was that there was a very livable area there, but what I saw did not inspire me to live there. I’ll need to go back and give the whole city a better look.
It’s simple, humble ornament that conveys the function of the building. With a little humor, it almost suggests that the horses are popping their somber heads out to have a look around.
Against rich complexity of the old Seminary, the houses designed by EYA are then a real letdown. They carry the superficial veneer of “context” that is endemic to New Urbanist planning and its most visible error. To be clear, they are not abominations, but they are dull and only stylistically similar to the outré conglomeration across the street. The application of traditional elements here fulfills a requirement that new buildings respect the architecture of the historic landmark. Okay, sure, sounds good, but the legislation is fairly scant in the details of execution. The easy option, a cynical abdication of artistic responsibility, is to copy the notions of form in hazy facsimile and slap it on off-the-shelf buildings. Even where the designs are competent, the lack of sensitivity results in tepid mediocrity.
Hidden among a leafy scattering of houses and trees, Forest Glen Seminary is a jumble of vernacular buildings unlike any of the temples of boxes that define Washington. Its buildings, both magnificent and ludicrous amount to a dignified campiness that defies expectations to be one of the most profoundly interesting places encircled by the Beltway. Once constituting a women’s college when that meant a two-year Mrs. degree, the buildings are once again becoming domestic space, the more private areas cut into condos and the core of the complex, rental units. Scattered around the area, turn-of-the-century houses are being renovated and new housing by the urbanist developer EYA has just been finished. Through the site’s history, radical changes have shaped its form, but none so radical as the current shift in context.
Seen at 15 Central Park West. If you don’t understand, then please catch up on the past 40 years of architecture. I can wait.