September 25, 2013

RE-LAUNCH: Are We There Yet?

by C. VanWingen

If you're reading this (obviously, you are; hopefully, someone is; hello?), you have either just stumbled across this long belated awesomeness (in which case, welcome) or have been wondering where the heck we've been for the last two years (!).

I'd like to tell you that we've been conquering the world, one ridiculously stupendous building at a time. Mostly, though we've been doing what most other archi-kids have to do out of school; biding our time. Since last posting to Foggy Stupor, the GOAT team has had some shake ups, has explored some alternate career paths, and has added some new faces. I think we've finally shaken out the cobwebs.

In the first post I wrote to the world, I announced "We are GOATstudio and we are ready." Turns out, that was not entirely true. However, from the turmoil, we have emerged stronger, more confident, less cynical, and more ready to grow into the design leaders we have always believed ourselves destined to be (hence the only slightly presumptive "Greatest Of All Time" moniker; consider it an IOU to the design world). I'm not making any bold promises this time, though. I just ask that you stop in from time to time, keep us honest, and remind us that we still owe you a big one.

August 29, 2011

SIX YEARS AND STILL SCREWED UP: Riding with Ms. Betty Ross

by C. VanWingen

photo by raisinface

Occasionally, my day job requires that I travel to Houston, a city that offends nearly all of my urban sensibilities.  A few days ago, however, my visit to that wasteland of freeways and shopping malls took an interesting turn.

After reaching Texas in a particularly foul mood (I missed my first flight because apparently arriving 2 minutes early for departure is about 18 minutes too late), I jumped into a waiting cab.  News of the anticipated fare ($54! Thanks  urban sprawl) did little to improve my humor.  I perked up measurably though, when I learned that my driver, Ms. Betty Ross, was from New Orleans.  At least I wouldn’t have to suffer the 40 minute (!) voyage in silence with some blissfully ignorant Texan.

Ms. Betty, it turns out, is from the Lower 9th Ward.  Like so many, the animated mother of two fled her home 6 years ago and lost nearly everything.  Her story seemed to differ little from those that I had heard dozens of times over the last few years.  I listened politely, as I always do, and she offered her deeply personal story freely, as they always do.

What made this situation special was that I had never heard the tale of the storm from someone that had not returned to New Orleans.  Every other time, the teller seemed genuinely happy to have come through the ordeal and returned home.  Ms. Betty did not seem happy.  There was a small but noticeable layer of rage in her tone that seemed to be directed not at the storm, nor at the government, but at the people that lived there now (like me).

Ms. Betty insisted that there was still a part of her that wanted to return.  When I asked “when?” she responded plainly “not until it gets rebuilt”.  She just shook her head while I listed all the projects and accomplishments that we’ve been hailing as “progress”.  She explained that the only time she hadn’t felt safe in Houston was when she shared her neighborhood with fellow evacuees (they attempted to break into her new home twice).  Security was a new, pleasant feeling that she had never enjoyed in NOLA and she wasn’t ready to give up.  The superior roads, schools, housing, and job market didn’t hurt either.

Ms. Betty’s beef with New Orleans emanated from an expectation that “rebuilt” should mean “better.”  She has no interest in returning to the city she left six years ago.  She wants to live in a more resilient, productive, and secure New Orleans, a city superior to the one she and her family & friends escaped.

Today, it has been six year since the levees breached (!) and we have failed Ms. Betty and everyone like her.   We have compromised on our infrastructural reconstruction.  We have allowed corruption and waste to creep back into City Hall (though Ms. Betty did seem pleased that “Egghead Ray” is gone).  The crime rate has returned to unacceptable levels.  The neighborhoods that survived continue to decay and those that were washed away remain desolate and isolated.  The keys to the city’s recovery and future have been handed to aristocrats and criminals.

Granted, some of these shortcomings were to be expected under such difficult circumstances.  But many of our issues are the result of our own inexcusable and backward sense of pride in the city’s rampant delinquency and incompetence.  It’s all part of the “charm.”  We live in the “City that Care Forgot.”  From crumbling infrastructure, to endless seas of blight, from political sleaze to freaking MURDER, we have let our leadership off the hook with this misguided “que sera, sera” attitude.

Simply put, we forgot to care about our city.  Disjointed sidewalks, street flooding, poverty, narcotics, embezzlement, police brutality, traffic congestion, broken levees, deleted e-mails, no-bid contracts, and MURDER are not charming.  These are signs of a delusional populace and crappy leadership.  Ms. Betty deserves better.

July 28, 2011

SH[it]PO: The Incomprehensible Hypocrisy of Preservation

by C. VanWingen

I leave you all alone for a couple weeks and look what happens; if you haven’t already heard, brace yourself.  Phyllis Wheatley Elementary School, Charles Colbert's Modern masterpiece and the former future home of GOATstudio was demolished on June 22nd.  While on vacation, I had a perfectly chilled Oberon ruined by the news that the demo schedule had been fast-tracked.  Apparently, New Orleans now has the unfortunate distinction of being the first city to destroy a building under the protection of the World Monuments Fund.  Lucky for me, I don’t bear the sentimental burden of attachment to this building that so many seemed to.  To me, Phyllis Wheatley was little more than a beautiful building in disrepair with a sweet location across the street from the world’s best fried chicken (Willie Mae’s; check it out and become a believer).   It would have made a great, if insanely expensive, home for a design studio (or food co-op, or art market, or office park, or a…).  If I’m honest, the only inconvenience this loss causes me is that I’ll have to start hunting for a new run-down, dilapidated site to renew as the home of our little endeavor.  Fortunately, there is no shortage of potential sites in this city that fit that description.

Others, however, spent years fighting for this building’s preservation.  A former professor of mine vocally and passionately advocated its importance for as long as I’ve known him, and managed to rally the support of hundreds throughout the region.  Their work spawned a number of fundraising groups, social networking efforts, viral videos, petitions, and celebrity endorsements.  Undoubtedly, the demolition has dealt these folks a significant blow, perhaps even shaking the belief and commitment they once had in community activism.  I just thought the damn place would make a nice office.  The passion of so many, however, drove us to step forward with an outside-the-box business proposal, a willingness to fight for funding, and enough naiveté to believe someone important would listen.  The outpouring of support was incredible.  Had we received a stay-of-execution, I believe we could have resurrected the iconic building and had access to all the fried chicken we could handle for years to come.  With so much public support and national attention, a viable proposal, and such a plucky attitude, how could we fail?  With little political, economic, or social pressure to move forward with demolition, how did this happen?

by GOATstudio
How is it that one cannot replace a door knob in the French Quarter or install a new mailbox in place of their obscenely undersized model in the Irish Channel without incurring the wrath of SHPO, but this travesty can occur without that aristocratic bunch of hypocrites even raising a finger?  That is what eats at me about this situation and by extension, this city.  These assholes are directly responsible for Adam the Mailman’s bi-weekly mangling of my Rolling Stone, but they cannot “preserve” one of the most significant representations of an entire era of regional architecture.  Bullocks.

My anorexic, historically irreplaceable mailbox
Being an architect(ish), I am often asked by those that do not know any better, “What is your favorite building in New Orleans?”  Occasionally, I offer a smart-ass reply like “Loyola’s parking garage” or “the abandoned plant on the river.” Usually, however, I try to explain that my love for this place has more to do with my future in it than its past without me.   I love the rich, historic fabric that the city is known for and would generally agree that it deserves protection from the too-often undiscerning advances of the developer’s wrecking ball.  But when did we decide that “rich, historical fabric” only applies to shit built before 1940?  Seriously.  If my mailbox is more historically significant than the Wheatley School, that is the message that I am getting; that this beautiful, vibrant city has not been capable of making any significant architectural contributions since WWII.  Imagine if you were an artist and your city’s controlling lobbies told you that the only acceptable subject matter to paint was St. Louis Cathedral, or a chef that could only serve Creole, or a musician relegated solely to jazz, because these are the things that make New Orleans "unique".  It is the same as telling an architect that the only design worthy of the city’s lexicon was built a century ago (cheap replicas are also acceptable; see New Urbanism).

Ugh... This guy.
Ironically, it seems that the State Historic Preservation Office is causing irreversible damage to New Orleans’ architectural legacy.  Lost Modernist gems like Wheatley, laughable Post-Modern follies like the Piazza d’Italia (probably the next to go), and contemporary projects like Make It Right, deserve a place in our historical narrative as much as any 19th century cathedral or pre-war shotgun.  New Orleans deserves to be more than a museum.

Rant over. RIP Wheatley,
Colin Van