Jul 282014
 

The bayou facade of the proposed Deutsches Haus building on Moss Street (via Mathes Brierre architects)

Owen Courreges

We can now officially say that the New Orleans City Planning Commission is insane.  This week, the Planning Commission asked members of the Deutsches Haus to revisit the plans for their new building in Mid-City — because it is too Germanic-looking.

Yes, you read that correctly.

Now, when you go car shopping, you don’t say to the salesman: “I like this car, but it looks too much like, you know, a car.  Don’t you have anything that looks like a bicycle?”

Likewise, you don’t call a realtor and ask to see a house, and then say: “Why do you keep showing me these buildings with bedrooms and bathrooms and pitched roofs?  I want something emblazoned with Golden Arches that has a ball pit in front.”

Accordingly, the Planning Commission should hardly have been shocked when Deutsches Haus, which literally translates to “German House,” issued plans that looked very German.  Of course the designs were strongly Germanic.  That’s the whole damn point.

The Planning Commission’s reasoning was that the design “does not mesh well” with either the city or the surrounding neighborhood.  Apparently, the Planning Commission subscribes to the bizarre and radical notion that a Germanic structure, located anywhere in New Orleans, is direly offensive to the architectural fabric of the entire city.

Of course, New Orleans actually does have a diverse stock of architecture, and even those buildings from similar eras can differ radically in appearance depending on their size and function.  We have shotgun homes, double galleries, commercial structures and churches.

A church may not look anything like a single-family home, but they can still complement each other.  We accept, both aesthetically and practically, that buildings with diverse uses and backgrounds will also have different appearances.

In the case of the planned site for Deutsches Haus, the immediate surrounding area consists of small homes that aren’t particularly distinctive.  The design of Deutsches Haus is never going to mirror that of its neighbors, and it would be ridiculous for it to try.  Were I a bit more cynical, I might argue that the Planning Commission was simply making vapid criticisms to justify its own existence.

For its part, Deutsches House seemed exasperated with the Planning Commission.

“We had the pre-eminent architectural firm in New Orleans to design us a Germanic building, and this is what the pre-eminent architectural firm says is a Germanic building,” said member George Mahl.  “So we’d like to keep what we have there on paper.”

Personally, I don’t even like the proposed Deutsches Haus design all that much.  It’s fairly modern-looking and I greatly prefer traditional architecture.  Moreover, the stone walls give it a weird “mausoleum” vibe.

However, that’s how architecture works.  To a large degree it’s subjective.  Some people love modern design and others hate it.  Some designs are hits, others are misses.  This immutable reality is precisely the reason why it’s not a great idea to have a panel of aesthetic Pooh-Bahs with bizarre and unreasonable standards imposing their will on infill development.

Noted urbanist Jane Jacobs was famous for saying that “[i]n our American cities, we need all kinds of diversity.”  This sentiment encompassed architectural diversity.  Jacobs derided planners who pushed for architectural uniformity and celebrated the idea of having both traditional and contemporary structures throughout a city.

“Dull, inert cities, it is true, do contain the seeds of their own destruction and little else,” Jacobs wrote. “But lively, diverse, intense cities contain the seeds of their own regeneration, with energy enough to carry over for problems and needs outside themselves.”

What this means is that cities that demand uniformity tend to lack the dynamism necessary to sustain themselves.  Here, a bureaucratic demand for architectural sameness is precisely the type of “dull” thinking that we need to nip in the bud.

Ultimately, it’s absurd that the City Planning Commission is obsessed with the notion of whether the plans for Deutsches Haus are too Germanic, or whether its roof design is out of place.   A unique design closely mirroring the purpose of the structure should have been celebrated, not derided.

The city council will have the opportunity to bypass the Planning Commission’s recommendation, and I for one certainly hope they do.   Unless planning in this city has truly become a cruel and inane exercise, there should be an allowance to permit the “German House” to look German.

Owen Courrèges, a New Orleans attorney and resident of the Garden District, offers his opinions for UptownMessenger.com on Mondays. He has previously written for the Reason Public Policy Foundation.

  • pfvayda

    bravo, Owen!

  • nolagal70118

    The CPC’s statement was surprising to me, but then, so was the picture of the proposed structure once I saw it. Apparently, I don’t know what “Germanic” is supposed to look like, as I was picturing something along the traditional lines, like this — http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Architecture_of_Germany. Perhaps CPC meant to say it is too modernistic.

    Of course, if they choose this modern style, that is their right to do so. I had just always imagined that the organization sought to preserve the historical German culture. While I am not a fan of the proposed design, ultimately I believe it is their right to choose the design of their building.

    • Owen Courrèges

      nolagal,

      It’s a contemporary Germanic design, but they didn’t really appear to complain about the contemporary part. Based on the CPC’s recommendations, I would wager than any new design submitted will still be contemporary, but the roof will less pitched and the tile design will be absent. In other words, it will make it look worse.

      Anyway, kudos on agreeing with their right to choose their own design. I understand that some aesthetic design mandates ought to be be imposed in some cases (such as with any new structures in the French Quarter), but I don’t see the purpose here.

  • H. J. Bosworth JR.

    Thank you Owen for another pointed and honest story about the absurd events that surround us. The old club house was in the way of the mega medical center and the group was forced out – thanks to the State of LA. They have been struggling with red tape for years now and now they must endure the foolishness of the Planning Commission.

    And when something we have all know as the Deutches Haus is proposed to look like a large German house, is there really any harm? I think Mathes Brierre executed a fine rendering of what we should all come to appreciate in years to come. Sehr gut!

  • Jim McArthur

    Maybe the Planning Commission has a point. After all, the French Quarter doesn’t look ‘too French’: maybe because it’s Spanish.

  • littlewitch

    I do not know about all that, but this building is very ugly, weird and out of place by any standard. Perhaps the Planning Commission needs to be more clear on what those standards are . How can anyone correct too “Germanic”…but in spirit they are completely correct, large contemporary buildings made with cheap building materials do not mesh well with our City’s Architecture.

    Also the modified “chalet” look is very contemporary, existing surrounding buildings are “period”. Maybe if this building was more of a “period interpretation “of a “Germanic structure” (whatever that is) , it would mesh. Right now this is a very commercial cheesy version of a Chalet… In Germany this might be viewed as not Germanic enough or at least too cartoonish.

    The Planning Commission needs clearer guidelines, but I agree with their opinion completely that this building does not relate to the surrounding neighborhood or the City in general. It will be an eyesore from day one.

    Fussiness and resistance to change on the part of the Planning Commission may be annoying, even maddening but it is a big reason why our city is considered one of the most beautiful in the USA. Preserving what is gorgeous means not allowing a hodge podge in the name of “Diversity”. No one would ever say that New Orleans is a “dull, inert city”. We must be doing something right.

    • Owen Courrèges

      littlewitch,

      I think I addressed your arguments in my piece. I don’t find the plans to be very attractive either, but then again, I’m not a big fan of contemporary architecture. However, that’s a personal bias and I don’t believe in imposing that on everyone else.

      In any event, the basis for the CPC’s criticism here was not that the building is insufficiently traditional, but that it was too “German,” particularly with respect to the pitch and design of the roof. I don’t think they were rejecting contemporary designs per se.

      I believe the rest of your arguments go well beyond the facts. “Cheap building materials?” That’s certainly a reality these days, but nothing in the CPC’s decision has anything to do with that. You want “clearer guidelines?” Sorry, but what you’re arguing is a visceral reaction to the design. You can’t create objective standards for “cheesy” or “commercial.” You can only arbitrarily impose your subjective aesthetic views, or restrict architecture to traditional forms.

      Finally, I would argue that the reason why New Orleans is considered beautiful is because we have preserved a large stock of traditional architecture from the Victorian era and earlier, not because we started micro-managing land use and new development in the 20th century. Trying to attribute our current aesthetic state to overregulation is farcical — New Orleans developed in the absence of that.

  • Deux amours

    Are style and aesthetic questions even within the purview of the City Planning Commission?

    • Owen Courrèges

      Deux,

      You wouldn’t think so, but… Here we are. The bottom line is that when the city gets to approve a conditional use it can tack on whatever “provisos” it wants.

      • Deux amours

        The “city” has not tacked on anything yet, I think there is a recommendation, without a legal basis, by the CPC, but you are right that the City can predicate conditional uses on changes it wants. I predict the Germans will win this like they ran over Argentina.

        • Owen Courrèges

          Deux,

          Fair enough. I hope you’re right.

  • frustrated

    Here you go again: “The immediate surrounding area consists of small homes that aren’t particularly distinctive.”

    What does that slur have to do with anything?

    I’m sure the residents of this community would rightly take issue with your offensive description of their neighborhood.

    If the homes were, say, distinctive, would that make a difference?

    You’re outraged at the commission; I’m outraged at your needless, elitist attack on the middle class. That, to me, is offensive.
    For shame.

    • Of course it has to do with it. The whole planning mantra is about fitting in, not making waves except in certain designated free fire zones. Everything is too high, too low, too this too that. Segregation by zoning. That is why Owen Courreges is quoting Jane Jacobs. Playing it safe with the preservationists, many of whom have slipped their anchor, means keep it all the same. Many streets are architecturally undistinguished. So what? Doesn’t make someone reviewing architecture an elitist.

  • Bob Bolin

    Lord knows that German folk just haven’t contributed so much to the New Orleans melting pot that they should be allowed to represent their heritage as they see fit. Fortunately the CPC is gatekeeping our sacred traditions like they have so many, many times before. The concrete bunker exercise studio across from uptown Whole Foods for example. Or the Healing Center or…

    • Pamela Roberts

      Are you kidding about “German folk” not having contributed? I hope not…think about it when you eat “French” bread made by Leidenheimers.

  • Joseph Stephany

    the design that was submitted is by a German
    architect. that combine both old world and new world design. Representing all areas of Germany North and South. i personally would love to see a old world/beer hall /stereotypical om-pah building but…. that would be out of place. across from the museum of art and its too German….Please!

  • Dogmom13

    The new location is along the bayou next to a cemetery, some sort of stoneworking business, and what I would guess are the Fairgrounds’ stables. Unless treeless concrete is now an architectural style, anything would be an improvement as long as the construction doesn’t mess with the waterfowl families along that stretch of Moss Street.

  • Zecret

    Ironically, architect Adolf Hitler shared the Commission’s idea that a good architecture is a homogeneous architecture.

  • Owen Courrèges

    frustrated,

    It’s not a slur. I’ve seen the immediate surrounding homes and they’re not particularly distinctive. That doesn’t mean that they’re ugly or bad; they just aren’t uniquely historical nor are they iconic examples of New Orleans residential architecture They don’t stand out in such a way that you’d say: “Boy, we’d better prevent somebody from building something GERMAN-LOOKING around here!”

    How you spun that comment into an “elitist attack on the middle class” and “offensive” is beyond me.

    • Pamela Roberts

      Are they trying to eradicate German culture altogether? Seems so. How many street names were renamed? People even changed their “heritage”….Haydel is not French….it is German.

  • Leeandra Nolting

    OK, who did they neglect to pay off?

  • Michael Jones

    Someone forgot to pay off the commission.

  • Pamela Roberts

    I really miss the original Deutsches Haus which was torn down for the convenience of the Baton Rouge interests. But, give me a break! How do they want the Deutsches Haus to look? French? Spanish? Moslem? They obviously have no sense of history. There was a time (before WWII) when the City had many of these “singing associations.” They forget that many people of German descent still live in New Orleans. Someone wants to forget about German heritage altogether. Our City planners have no sense of history at all….whatever happed to all the dozens of beautiful opera houses that were torn down…..even the one which was torn down in the French Quarter to make room for a hotel parking lot. However, the City had no problem with Brad Pitt’s ugly “houses.” They don’t mesh with anything in New Orleans. They are the real blight, especially the atrocious one in Harrison Avenue in Lakeview….now, does that one really fits in with the neighborhood. How much money crossed hands to put that monstrosity there?

  • Henry Harmison

    Owen, were you related to Wimpy Courreges? I believe he was in Pete Fountain’s band.

  • Thankyoulordiamretired

    Diversity is lauded in this country, only if it is the politically correct culture (eg. Hispanic,Islamic, Black). Since German heritage is not in that group, tough luck suckers. I am sure Jefferson Parish would welcome such a structure. I do not see the hospital complexes messing with anything but they are a go. Just a random thought.

  • Diane Demp

    WRONG, THIS ISNT TOO GERMANIC. IT’S ORNATE BIZARRE GYPSY TRASH ARCHITECTURE WHICH WOULDNT WORK ON THE RHINE, MOSELLE, ELBE OR BAYOU ST JOHN !

    FYI: According to the architectural firm’s public info site, it has done 3 international business jobs and none of them were in Europe ! One was in Anguilla –a golf course; another in San Salvador, an office building; and another was not a building but a Hovercraft in Indonesia ! The latter is interesting since their were environmental protest in Indonesia against Freeport so did they have to go there to make it or drive it in — was it to run from the radical environmentalists ? Does it belong with building and houses architecture ? There is no doubt that the firm has done superb work locally but lets not say internationally or nationally. Please I am an international traveler and have lived in SF, DC, NY-NJ. Lets not be so small town as to call this international and please dont take anyone’s word for it without doing your research –and with other peoples money including my tax that gave such a generous amount to the HAUS !

    Does anyone do background checks or research or is there so much money that it can be thrown around, note the complaint about cost? So the Haus has lack of business sense and I have to pay with this eyesore in my neighborhood ? Hey put it next to the Pontchartrain Center in Kenner ! (Their mayor seems smart but 8 out of 10 people there probably cant find Germany on a map !)

    And George M. says “the architects say its a German design so we’d like to keep it !!!” Really George ?

    Is there an architect with a real sense/ feel and cultural understanding of the most appropriate German Bier Haus style that would mesh best with my neighborhood’s architecture ? This would/will take time and you would have to know both styles and cultures and the give and take would begin once this baseline was agreed on. It is not this thing –even the more modern Bier Haus in Germany is not like this one. In fact some are slightly modern and look like they have motel type extensions because they are combined guest houses and bier/restaurant houses.

    So the architect is German, dont be so nola (natives go gaga over foreign whether its NYC or Germany) but that should mean more reason to be concerned. Maybe the architect is here because there were no jobs in Germany or a relative/friend lives here and got him a job or he is fresh out of architectural/tech college.

    Seems like from my experience the HAUS and the city planners should have looked a little closer i.e. look at some beer houses in Germany. What about some comparative Bier Haus photography ? Hey look at Milwaukee, Wisconsins great German beer house ! Can you be more German than Milwaukee ! So let’s cross the t’s and dot the i’s before you mess up the streetscape in my neighborhood———- or think about staying in Metairie where many members live anyway (and Kenner).

    FOR YOU POLITICALLY CORRECT WHINERS, THIS HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH THE WONDERFUL GERMAN CULTURE —GET OVER IT. GERMANS ARE NOT SUPPOSE TO BE VICTIMS !

    ITS THE UGLY BUILDING SEEMINGLY PICKED OUT OF A HAT AND MODIFIED SOME — AND NOW PLANNED FOR “MY” NEIGHBORHOOD — ACROSS FROM “MY” ANCIENT THROUGHFARE BAYOU WHICH HAS AS A NEIGHBOR BEAUTIFUL CITY PARK WITH ANCIENT OAKS — AN URBAN OASIS PLEASURABLE TO THE EYE WHICH BOB BECKER HAS CREATED WITH HIS SUPERB SENSE OF PLACE AND DEDICATION TO PROPORTIONAL/APPROPRIATE DESIGN CORRECTNESS.

    THIS HAUS DESIGN IS MONSTROUS AS IS EVERYTHING ABOUT IT: THE ROOF FROM HELL, EMACIATED CROSS TIMBERS LOOK MORE ENGLISH THAN GERMAN, OMINOUS REICH EAGLES ON POST PERCH, MONGOL/HUN HORDE TYPE STICK LANTERNS IN FRONT, ACOUSTIC CHALLENGES THAT WOULD CHALLENGE ULYSSES’ SIRENS OR SATURDAY ON BOURBON STREET; AND THE ABUNDANCE OF GLASS FACING THE SCORCHING WEST AFTERNOON SUN AND/OR HURRICANE FORCE WINDS (YEA I KNOW THEY HAVE BEEN TESTED TO WITHSTAND 2,000 MILE WINDS AND THE WINDOWS ARE TRIPLE TRIPLE PANED AND NO WINDOW CLEANING REQUIRED) !

    CITY PLANNING SHOULD NOT CONSIDER “GIVING IN” BECAUSE ITS PAYBACK FOR GIVING UP THE OLD HAUS. NONSENSE! THE HAUS WAS GOING TO BE TAKEN REGARDLESS BY THE STATE/FEDS. DONT DAMAGE OUR NEIGHBORHOOD BECAUSE THE HAUS SEEMED SO GENEROUS. IT GOT A SWEET DEAL. THE HAUS LEADERSHIP IS LACKING WITH INTERNAL SQUABBLES, IMPERIALISTIC VISIONS/ATTITUDES AND WITH THAT THEY CONTRACT AND PRODUCING THIS SORT OF CRAPPOLA ETC. . ANYWAY FOR THE PRICE TAX PAYERS PAID THEM THIS TAX PAYER WANTS SOMETHING THAT IS DECIDED ON WITH BETTER JUDGEMENT THAN “HE TOLD ME IT WAS GERMAN SO BE IT.

    ” WHAT THE HELL TYPE OF BUSINESS SENSE AND LOGIC IS THIS ?

    HERE’S AN ETHNIC EQUALIZER: WERE THE SWEAT BUILDERS OF THE CITY EVER GIVEN SUCH A GENEROUS REWARD — THE SONS OF IRELAND, ITALY OR AFRICA ?

    HAVING ONCE BEEN A MEMBER OF THE HAUS, I FOUND THAT MOST MEMBERS DONT LIVE IN NOLA SAME WITH THEIR GUEST. AS FOR THE NEIGHBORHOOD ASSOCIATION(S) SUPPORTING DECISIONS, WELL MOST OF THE ASSOCIATIONS LEADERS ARE SO ARBITRARY AND UNILATERAL DECISION MAKERS THAT OVER THE YEARS I REALIZE THEIR INPUT ISNT WORTH THE PROVERBIAL HILL OF BEANS BUT THEY HAVE THE EARS OF THE POWER BROKERS VIA VARIOUS TYPES OF INFLUENCE AND AFFLUENCE. SO THAT IS WHY I SIGN OFF THIS SITE AS A SOURKRAUT — PRUSSIAN SOURKRAUT