A Plea from New Orleans
By Jaime Gillin / Published by Dwell

The Phillis Wheatley Elementary School in New Orleans, which despite its standing as a rare and important work of modern architecture (one of the best examples of regional modernism in the city), and despite surviving the storms and levee breach of 2005, was demolished in 2011. It incorporated both traditional and innovative design ideas, like an elevated structure for flooding and natural ventilation, and a playground beneath its cantilevered wings.

"Once Wheatley is gone, another part of our history, of African-American culture in New Orleans, is demolished," said Phyllis Montana-LeBlanc in 2011. Montana-LeBlanc is a cast member in the HBO series "Treme" who attended Wheatley in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

A Plea For Modernism from Evan Mather on Vimeo.

The video does a great job putting the structure in context, both in terms of the neighborhood (it's in the African-American neighborhood of Tremé—and in fact the film is narrated by actor Wendell Pierce, of the TV show "Treme") and the history of architecture and architectural appreciation in New Orleans and the U.S. As John Stubbs, Vice President for Field Projects at the WMF, says in the film: "Preserving modern architecture in the United States is somewhat an uphill battle for historic preservationists because it's art and architecture of the recent past." He also points out, quite significantly, that "if Wheatley School is lost through demolition, it will be the first site on the monument Watch List to have died in our arms."

The video is essentially a call to action; at the end, Mather lists the phone numbers for the city's mayor and the superintendents of the school district and school board. Saving this school will cost the same as tearing it down and replacing it—and it's well worth preserving. Nice modernists unite!

Jaime Gillin


When not writing, editing, or combing design magazines and blogs for inspiration, Jaime Gillin is experimenting with new recipes, traveling as much as possible, and tackling minor home-improvement projects that inevitably turn out to be more complex than anticipated.

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