Design principles for buildings can be placed largely in three categories. They are: (01) the building’s scale or form, (02) the building’s uses and (03) the building’s architecture or appearance.
In the case of Elisio Lofts, nine public meetings and working group sessions indicate that the project is well liked by a majority of residents and all immediate neighbors. It is found to be appealing by just about everyone in terms of (02) and (03). Understandably, however, there exists some concern related to (01), the scale and specifically the height of the one building on Elysian Fields Avenue.
Let’s explore this topic further.
Since Marigny’s riverfront blocks have been populated for decades by actively used, larger-scale warehouses, there has been little redevelopment of them. It seems, however, that these roughly twelve properties will transition during the next ten years to residential and other uses, ideally adding much needed quality housing and a rich mix of retail which brings life to the street.
As they do, it is important to note that this area - Chartres to the river - presents a distinctly different essential character than the colorful, smaller-scale creole cottages and shotguns which form the majority of Marigny - Chartres to St. Claude. These homes and corner stores are situated directly on the street, close together and on small lots with few front yards and little off-street parking. The industrial real estate is different and needs somewhat different guidelines about “scale” to recognize its different nature.
Among the first of these properties to transition is Elisio Lofts. As you can see, it is actually three buildings, each a different height – one 74 feet, one 22 feet and one 48 feet. With them, there is an opportunity to choose principles which encourage superior design, the goal being imaginative and beautiful projects that become not the sort of buildings people fear and fight but ones we admire, love and want.
Like St. Charles Avenue, Elysian Fields is wide. One of the widest boulevards and neutral grounds in New Orleans. It is part of a wonderful fan-like street grid, comprised of large boulevards intersected by smaller streets that run between and through them. Shorter buildings are built on smaller streets, and taller buildings are built on larger streets. Scale in relationship to street size, thus, is not new or unique, and it works. Like our signature mix of the old and the new, this thoughtful juxtaposition of heights is New Orleans. It is also a long-established design principal present in greatly admired cities within our nation and beloved cities throughout the world. Washington DC as well as Paris and Rome are but a few of the many good examples.
Current zoning, however, permits 50 feet uniformly regardless of location. Obviously there are exceptions. This height limit is highly appropriate for the vast majority of Marigny, and no one with a straight face could reasonably propose anything higher in the above mentioned neighborhood core, with its tight fabric of smaller creole cottages and shotguns. But, there are still exceptions, most being in this riverfront-Elysian Fields portion of Marigny. Some exceptions are churches, utility towers, NOCCA, Christopher Inn, Hotel de la Monnaie, the proposed City parking garages and 2121 Chartres. Each exceeds the blanket 50-foot maximum.
In sum, while at this location one could conventionally clear the entire site and build on it a uniform 50-foot box with parking on the ground floor and no preservation of the older middle warehouse, we think it is a bad idea. It would be alien to a neighborhood that completely defies such homogeneity, and it would not reflect best practices in urban design.
Alternatively, it is by far more interesting and speaks directly to the architectural eccentricities in Marigny, if we design three buildings with different shapes. Allow retail to enliven the streetscape not depress it with parking. Use multiple materials, texture and pattern. Soulfully mix old with new. Acknowledge the grand majesty of Elysian Fields with the 74-foot building, on just 1/3 of the land. Create a monumental presence on the wide boulevard, stepping down respectfully and sensitively to lower heights of 22 feet and 48 feet on smaller streets with the two shorter buildings. A trio of three different heights - yet they still average only 48 feet.
This design, including the beautifully rendered 30-foot public alley which will be animated by day and night with neighbors, artists and diners, is not only superior design but entirely in keeping with the adventuresome life and legacy of Bernard Marigny and the mosaic of humanity that has lived in this faubourg for 205 years. Nestled into this larger industrial area of Marigny at the river, these will be beautiful buildings to live in, visit and admire.
Note: The City Planning Commission staff, Historic District Landmarks Commission staff, the Architectural Review Committee at the HDLC, all immediate neighbors and all manner of other residents support this design.