Architectural Tour of Baton Rouge

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By Aaron Britt
I was down in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, earlier this week to report on a house for the November issue of Dwell. While I was there I had a chance to talk with a class of Jim Sullivan's architecture students at LSU, wander around town a bit, and have a fine meal at the Shaw Center for the Arts's rooftop sushi joint, Tsunami. A handful of New Orleanian friends had alerted me to the fact that Baton Rouge is less than appealing, a notion repeated again and again on the HBO show Treme, but I found the place had some charm. Here are a couple buildings that caught my eye.

The Shaw Center for the Arts might be the most eye-catching modern building in town, and as such it houses part of LSU Museum of Art, a theater, and the aforementioned Tsunami, where I had alligator sushi. Not great, but not awful either. The building was designed as a collaboration between Eskew+Dumez+Ripple, Schwartz/Silver, and Jerry M. Campbell and Associates and won a 2008 AIA Honor Award. I liked very much the shimmering glass skin and soaring atrium. Nestled right between the Mississippi and downtown it was certainly bustling when I visited on a Friday night.

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Just opposite the Shaw Center is the Old State Capitol, a truly odd design that suggested something out of 1001 Nights as opposed to Southern politics. Mark Twain called it a "sham castle." James Louis Dakin's Gothic design, and the $20,000 worth of riverfront land Baton Rouge gave the state of Louisiana in 1847 managed to steal the capitol away from New Orleans.

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The new State Capitol came about when famed Louisiana governor Huey Long decided he wanted the tallest state capitol in the nation. The art deco design by Weiss, Dreyfous and Seiferth, yet another nod to the Kingfish's massive ego. Ironically, Long was assassinated in the building in 1935 when he was serving as one of Louisiana's senators.

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I only just went past it, but the Louisiana State Museum- Baton Rouge also had an appealing modern design, and I was charmed by the oldest part of the city, Spanish Town, which offered a colorful and contrasting density to the rest of Baton Rouge's residential neighborhoods. 

All told it was a fine tour, and as a Sacramentan, one familiar with the sneers and jeers directed at our nation's second-city state capitols, I'll confess to having something of a soft spot for old Baton Rouge.