Watching the ribbon cutting for the new VA medical center last week with our StudioNOVA design team colleagues, I was reminded of the project team’s mission statement which centered on providing world-class health care for our veterans who so nobly earned our country’s eternal gratitude. But as I walked the sprawling campus, I was also reminded of the portion of the mission statement which grounded the new campus into its urban context: “…the new Medical Center will respect New Orleans' neighborhoods, and authentically reflect the culture of the region…”
For our New Orleans design team, it raised fundamental questions, such as…
- How can we sensitively place a 2.4 million square foot institution into the heart of a historic residential neighborhood?
- How do we honor the legacy of a mid-century modern building (the Pan American Life Building, by SOM) currently on the National Register?
- How can we possibly incorporate a decrepit but much-beloved brewery building into the design of our new hospital?
The beautiful, iconic Dixie Brewery occupied the corner of Tulane Avenue and Rocheblave St for well over a century, but had long since fallen into disrepair. Its massive brick walls were cracked and buckling, portions of its roof collapsed, and its iconic dome covered with graffiti. Abutting the sidewalk at Tulane Avenue, it met none of the required setbacks and force protection requirements of a “mission critical” federal facility. And having been custom designed for brewery activities, it utilized thirteen different floor elevations over its seventy feet of usable height. Needless to say, the building faced challenges that might have seemed insurmountable to the faint of heart. But for the folks at EDR, who understood the cultural and historic importance of this building, it was essential that the building be preserved. With the support of the fine staff at the VA as well as design team partner NBBJ, the EDR team managed to resolve the myriad structural and architectural challenges of the original structure, and to repurpose the building for laboratory support activities associated with the hospital. So for many years to come, the beautiful profile of this iconic building will continue to greet visitors and passersby along a rejuvenated Tulane Avenue corridor, and serve as a testament to the rich architectural legacy of mid-city New Orleans.
For more information on this project: Veterans Affairs Replacement Medical Center
Check out the sketches below to see some of Mark's work on the VA Hospital