About R. Allen Eskew, FAIA: Mr. Eskew established Eskew+Dumez+Ripple in 1989 in pursuit of creating a civic-minded practice generating award-winning contemporary built work. Since that time, the firm has grown to include over 50 staff led by seven firm principals. The practice has earned a national reputation for excellence in architectural planning and design with projects ranging from large public aquariums to educational research facilities, with more than 100 awards achieved at the local, state, regional, and national AIA levels. He is a graduate of Louisiana State University and received his Master of Architecture from the University of California at Berkeley.
Allen, congratulations on receiving an Institute Honor Award for Regional and Urban Design. This category is quite different from the other Institute Honors in that it recognizes work on urban design, city planning, and community development rather than just a building or group of buildings. What role does an architect play in such large projects?
Design is design, whether it is at the detail of millwork or regional planning. Design should be inspirational, and consequently our practice pursues urban design assignments with the same commitment to quality and detail as we invest in our individual building projects.
Reinventing the Crescent is bringing some major changes to the New Orleans Riverfront. What were some of the conditions along the river that led to the search for a redevelopment plan?
I have been working along the New Orleans riverfront since the early 1980s, on a continuum of projects beginning with the 1984 World Expo, and punctuated by the 1990 Aquarium of the Americas. The Reinventing the Crescent development plan had long been contemplated, and often creatively considered by many entities, but finally came to fruition as a post-Katrina planning initiative, as the need to set a bigger future for our community became quite obvious.
Reinventing the Crescent was a project that looked toward our future and encouraged the opportunities afforded by immediate recovery efforts to be leveraged toward a new, long-term future growth trajectory that the city has needed for several decades now.
Your project was unanimously approved by the New Orleans Building Corporation (NOBC) in January 2008. What aspects of the project were so appealing to the selection committee?
The central Mississippi Riverfront of New Orleans has been a maritime service hub for almost 300 years. In the last 30 years, with the emergence of containerized shipping worldwide, the historic maritime fabric made up primarily of sheds and wharves needed to be replaced by large expanses of riverside container aprons. Consequently, the real estate in the center of our historic city became ripe for repurposing given that this new configuration for cargo handling was moving to the outer edges of our city and closer to multimodal transportation hubs.
The scale of the project is enormous—it spans six miles of the Mississippi and covers 152 acres. What are the major elements of the project, and how is it progressing?
The entire six-mile development plan was broken into three phases, with Phase I being approximately 1.3 linear miles. This first phase includes the repurposing of a historic shed at the Mandeville Wharf, with design involvement of Michael Maltzan. It also includes a second wharf’s repurposing, with a historic reused wall, and a pedestrian bridge over the parallel rail corridor, all by David Adjaye. The entire park’s landscaping and gardens have been designed by Hargreaves Associates. This scope of work is nearing completion, with a projected public opening late this Fall of 2012.
What are a few of the outcomes in upcoming phases? How do you think the remaining phases of the project will ultimately impact residents?
Given that Phase I is nearing completion, its impact will be seen immediately by the two adjacent historic neighborhoods, Marigny and Bywater. In these two neighborhoods, with great architectural fabric of an Afro-Caribbean personality and scale, this $30 million Phase I park will provide an immediate quality of life amenity to both of these neighborhoods.
The planned middle phase of approximately two miles represents an update of the French Quarter riverfront and an integration with our Central Business District. I would speculate that this next phase will be the beneficiary of our civic focus on the city’s tri-centennial celebration in 2018. I could imagine a portion of this Phase II property becoming one of the defining legacy icons of the Tricentennial celebration.
The planned third phase is the upriver portion, anchored by our Convention Center. A recently furthered vision plan for the 80 undeveloped acres adjacent to the Convention Center imagines a new New Orleans neighborhood, with riverfront residential, complementary retail, and a major hotel anchor accompanying the ever-expanding hospitality portfolio of the City.
In addition to its usual busy events calendar, New Orleans is hosting some major events, including the upcoming Superbowl in 2013 and the Tricentennial celebration in 2018. How will the new Riverfront space affect the life of the city during such events?
The soon-to-arrive 2013 NFL Superbowl is planned to utilize the newly completed Phase I amenities for some of its major hospitality events. With the Tricentennial coming five years later at 2018, I can imagine the core riverfront will be upgraded even more and complemented by some new public spaces. As is the case with New Orleans as a historic city anchored to its river, while we host major events for our visitors, we also host ourselves, in that our citizens are always wonderfully integrated in civic celebration.
Your firm has been heavily involved in the built environment of New Orleans and you’ve played a significant role in post-Katrina reconstruction. As a Louisiana native and New Orleans resident, what are some other projects that are important to you?
Without question, the New Orleans riverfront has been a career-defining engagement since I began work along its core in 1980. As mentioned earlier, the World’s Fair in 1984, the Aquarium in 1990, and the Convention Center expansion in 2012 have punctuated the two or three major master planning efforts that I have had the privilege of leading, the most recent being Reinventing the Crescent.
My preference for designing in the public realm in support of cultural facilities is the most enjoyable part of my work. The Shaw Center for the Performing Arts and the Louisiana State Museum in Baton Rouge have been two catalytic cultural anchors we’ve helped create in our State’s capitol. Further west, in the heart of Louisiana’s Cajun culture, we completed the University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s Art Museum, and the Acadiana Center for the Arts, a new interdisciplinary arts institution. These are just a few of the many civic spaces I have had the privilege of working on throughout my 30+ years practicing here.
We often think of the Institute Honor Awards program as a way to celebrate the profession. How does the general public get a better understanding of what architects do as a result of awards programs?
Awards programs, and the Institute’s Honor Awards in particular, offer instructive commentary on why a project is honored and often a journalistic description of the jurors’ comments. Reporting out on honor awards programs helps both the general public and the professional community understand the ways in which projects offered for consideration are vetted and constructively critiqued for their merits.
For you and your firm, what is the value of receiving an Institute Honor Award?
It validates quality at a national level, both for the talent within our staff, and the visions of our clients. Great projects seldom happen without a great client and the passionate staff. I have been privileged to work with both.
2013 Institute Honor Awards
Reinventing the Crescent
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R. Allen Eskew FAIA
Phone: (504) 561-8686