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Museum Architecture and Design

The buildings of the new Ogden Museum of Southern Art, University of New Orleans, comprise one of the most architecturally significant complexes in the South. It involves the bold modern statement of the Stephen Goldring Hall and the remainder of the three-structure complex, which includes the preservation and restoration of the historic Howard Memorial Library (later renamed the Patrick F. Taylor Library), designed by the nationally renowned 19th-century architect Henry Hobson Richardson, and the completion of the Clementine Hunter Wing.

The Ogden Museum's multi-year preservation and construction is one of New Orleans' major urban projects, reflecting renewed urban development and marketing the city as a major cultural destination. The project has helped to rejuvenate the Warehouse District and completes the neighborhood's transformation, reflecting the importance of cultural tourism in New Orleans and in cities throughout the United States.

Local New Orleans architects from the award-winning firm of Errol Barron/Michael Toups are responsible, working with Concordia APC, designed Stephen Goldring Hall. Errol Barron/ Michael Toups are also responsible for the restoration work of the Taylor Library. The firm is known for their designs of religious, institutional, educational and business facilities, and for their expertise in the review of historical landmarks and designs.

Stephen Goldring Hall

Building Size 47,000 square feet
5 floors

Museum Height 60 feet

Major Materials Structure: Reinforced concrete
Exterior: Arizona sand stone, plaster, glass and steel
Interior: Slate, Brazilian cherry, plaster, painted trim, glass

Stephen Goldring Hall, constructed of glass and stone, contributes 47,000 square feet of space for the Ogden Museum's 19th, 20th and 21st-century collections, rotating exhibition space, museum store and Center for Southern Craft and Design, art vault, administrative offices and the Goldring-Woldenberg Institute for the Advancement of Southern Art and Culture.

The Library, when restored, will house the museum's 18th and 19th century works, research library, archives, education initiatives, the multi-media orientation theatre and the Institute for the Advancement of Southern Art and Culture. A newly constructed annex to the Library, the Clementine Hunter Wing, will be home to the museum's education initiatives and a technology center. This part of the complex will total 20,000 square feet, completing the entire museum's 67,000 square feet of space.

Stephen Goldring Hall reflects the distinctive architecture of the city's Warehouse district. The challenge in designing such a structure was many-fold. First was the need to unite the new with the old, with the exterior of Goldring Hall complementing that of the historic Library. Rather than imitating what was present in the Library's design and construction, the architects mined the structure for its principles of geometry, including composition and organization.

Goldring Hall is based on that geometry, as well as on a host of other distinct challenges which includes assuring that a building of its size fit in with the surrounding buildings in this historic district. The building stands as a simple box that reaches all the way to the street, softened by positioning the main entrance back from the sidewalk in a courtyard setting, creating an effect of a grand Southern front porch. Stephen Goldring Hall recalls the historical significance of the Library in its use of sandstone and granite on the exterior to emulate the century-old sandstone and granite foundation of the Library. The color of Goldring Hall's upper floors, and the building's height - five stories - was selected to relate with the tones and scope of the surrounding structures, including the Contemporary Arts Center, its neighbor across the street.

The inclusion of block-glass walls that form the remainder of the facade's exterior, as it took shape, forged an unexpected surprise in terms of color and form. "Its relationship to the color of the sky ties it wonderfully into the background," explains Barron. "Additionally, as it dematerializes at its corner it lends a fairly delicate edge, yet has an inherent strength in character and structure," says Barron.

The structure's interior is a series of intimate galleries arranged in an "L" that wraps around a grand hall, connecting the building to more fore-grounded institutional structures such as Southern courthouses, grand hotels, opera houses and celebratory buildings found in great cities. It was designed to have a certain tension and contrast between the monumentality of the grand hall and the more intimate scope of the galleries.

The stairs that carry visitors from one level to another are a unique and dramatic creation in themselves. Cleverly structured to reveal no obvious means of support, they seemingly float, lending an element of strength and mystery at the same time.

What Barron appreciates most, though, is the structure's effect in terms of interior and exterior light, a direct result of the mass of glass. "The galleries were designed to wrap around this constant source of light," Barron says. "And after dark, the entire building glows, acting as a lantern in throwing a soft light out onto its urban setting."

A rooftop terrace completes the building's appeal, offering a dramatic view of the city's skyline, including the rooftop's of the Warehouse District and the Crescent City Connection, the bridge that spans the Mississippi River.

In the end, the ultimate challenge for the team of architects was finding a middle ground between a landmark building and a background building appropriate for the neighborhood. The architects wanted Goldring Hall to have an inherent industrial dignity, in keeping with the district of warehouses in the area, straight-forward institutional structures that hold the line of the street. Yet, the challenge was to build a structure worthy of a national museum; straight-forward yet elegant at the same time.

"Museums are high points in our culture," Barron, himself an artist as well as an architect, continues. "They contain these delicate, fragile objects that speak to our humanity. The definitive challenge then is creating an art museum that is more than a container for art, but a building that is subtle and important in its own right, yet serving as an appropriate backdrop to best showcase a collection of the magnitude of The Ogden Museum of Southern Art."

The Library and the Clementine Hunter Wing

Extensive restoration work is being done on the historic Patrick F. Taylor Library to preserve the treasure designed by the great American 19th-century architect Henry Hobson Richardson, and to make the building ready for its renewed life as part of the new Ogden Museum of Southern Art. Errol Barron/Michael Toups Architects of New Orleans was cited with an Honor Award by the American Institute of Architects for living up to the challenge of restoring the building's library rotunda to Richardson's original specifications in conjunction with the building's 100th birthday in 1989.

Although Richardson was a native of Louisiana, the historic landmark Library building - one of only six libraries designed by Richardson - is the only Richardson building located in the South. The Library was the architect's last work, and also the last in a series of evolutionary designs he developed for municipal buildings. The neo-Romanesque style - characterized by massive stone walls, dramatic semi-circular arches, and detailed interior millwork - influenced a generation of architects and was, in many ways, a hallmark of public architecture in late 19th-century America. Richardson's work provided an important transition from the historic architectural forms which preceded him and the work of Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright.

The building served as a library for over 50 years, but ceased service as a library completely in 1939. During the ensuing years, the Library endured numerous "modernizations" by various owners and tenants, including covering the Georgia heart-of-pine flooring in the circular reading room/rotunda with six inches of concrete for the building's conversion to a radio station, and later to corporate offices.

Following a fire in 1945, the structure underwent a series of drastic modifications that virtually destroyed much of the building's original interior character. The painstaking restoration work by Barron and Toups brought back the Library's majestic reading room, easily one of the most impressive late 19th century interior spaces in Louisiana. The great circular rotunda, measuring 40 feet high and 40 feet in diameter, is set off by a massive hooded sandstone fireplace and crowned by an elaborate oak hammerbeam vaulted ceiling. When viewed directly from below, the beams curve up and merge in an intricate radial pattern, with 17 hammerbeams jutting dramatically into the room, each terminating with a distinctively carved head of a mythical creature.

The restoration following the fire removed all the 20th-century additions except the three-story 1930s annex that was later demolished, and also included the opening of bricked-in dormers and windows, the removal of a six-inch concrete slab over the original heart-of-pine flooring, the removal of three floors of nondescript office space and the pine paneling which was used to repair damage from the fire.

The preservation project was characterized by attention to detail and research by Barron. Reconstruction work on the fire-damaged interior was performed using details from the Malden and Crane libraries in Massachusetts as reference. New flooring was milled from timbers found in a demolished Atlanta warehouse, and new carvings were executed at Tulane University. To replace missing stones, a lengthy search was conducted to find the original quarry, which was eventually traced to East Longmeadow in Massachusetts. Though closed and flooded, the architects managed to purchase stone from the quarry edges and had it shipped to New Orleans.

The newly built annex to the Library, the Clementine Hunter Wing, will feature a wall of granite and sandstone complementing the facade of Goldring Hall. The construction on this annex includes a ground-level entrance, gallery space showcasing the works of Hunter, a self-taught artist, and the Museum's education initiatives. Its granite and sandstone facade bridges the historic Library's exterior with the modern Stephen Goldring Hall.