In the latest chapter of Building Bilge, a series dedicated to interesting structures and the people who dwell in them, master builder Ellie Foster turns her keen, architecturally-minded eye to New Orleans. Take it away Ellie…
Whether you live in an EPC Zed-rated two-up two-down in the suburbs, or a pigeonhole on the perimeter of Piccadilly, it’s fair to say the UK property market leaves a lot of be desired. Yes, it stands to reason that liveable digsdo exist – ones that are actually watertight, or with an iota of personality. But with whole generations of aspiring buyers lacking a penny to scratch their derrieres with, housing options fall on a scale of pretty bleak to downright dreary.
England’s rows of duplicated billets are enough to get the chipperest of chaps down. If only there was a place on earth that offered a veracious cacophony of colour… form… structure? Abodes at least a touch fortified against grizzly drizzles and nine-force gales? After a rudimentary Google search, one such place that kept cropping up was New Orleans; a city where variety really is the spice of life, as well as somewhere that’s taken its fair share of weather-based stick.
Now, I’m not suggesting a mass migration to the Southern state of Louisiana, just a mind-migration: it’s nice to put the blinders on sometimes, pull the curtains over the dry rot and fantasise about vibrant far-off places even if it’s just for a moment…
In spirit of this, here are a few eclectic housing styles you’d likely see if you were on a high-velocity romp around NOLA’s main residential districts:
The Creole Cottage is probably the most distinctive style in this real estate round-up and owes its short, squat credentials to the Caribbean settlers that came to the US after the Haitian Revolution. Back in Haiti, these structures were typically wooden and sidled up next to a white sand beach somewhere, but after 1794 saw New Orleans swallowed by wildfire, these newly located replicas were forged in a tougher brick alternative and smothered in brightly hued stucco. You’d no doubt drop on a few of these whilst mooching around the infamous French Quarter and nearby Tremé neighbourhood.
Bourbon Street’s neon-lit bars and hole-in-the-wall food joints provide the lively foundations of a classic Creole Townhouse. Here, ornate cast iron balconies are stuffed with potted plantage and ooze the indisputable French flavour brought over by colonists way back when. These homes hover a whole storey above street-level and prevent livings rooms being inundated with Bayou swamp water on the regular. A design feature that, as you can probably imagine, comes in quite useful when you’re in a city six metres below sea-level.
Outside the hustle and bustle of the centre lies the meticulously-pruned Garden District; a proverbial picket-fenced paradiso if ever there was one, and home to the American-style Townhouse. This three-storey precedent is often narrow and asymmetric in appearance. A firm favourite among fraternity troops or disgraced politicians seeking refuge in the leafy suburbs.
Next up is the Raised Centre Hall Cottage and like its name suggests, it’s a stilted lodging with a hallway running along both its breadth and width. Although Creole architects thought corridors were a colossal waste of space (both figuratively and literally), Cajuns built these houses with private alcoves and cordoned off rooms that branched from this central spine. The exterior, on the other hand, were comprised of either fluted columns that imitated Greek temples or the fussy flourishes of Roman Palazzos.
And finally, we’ve got the Shotgun House; a single storey wood-clad pad distinguished by its fancy spindle porch and a floor plan not dissimilar to that of an Orient Express-esque sleeper train. This linear layout was originally designed so a bullet could go from the front to the back without dinging a single architrave or chipping so much as a lacquered sideboard. Great for warding off the city’s local blood-guzzlers with argento slugs (but comes in quite handy for ventilation purposes too).
Spontaneous belches from brass instruments, gut-busting soul food and palm tree boulevards might be what springs to mind at the mention of this Mississippian metropolis, but the infinite range of residences here shouldn’t go unnoticed either. Whether it’s through flood, fire or warfare, New Orleans has been flattened and rebuilt more times than those lot have had Crawfish Jambalaya and refreshingly, historic city-planners have had no qualms about plonking turreted creole condos right next door to an all-American ranch style shack; further evidencing that in the aptly named ‘Big Easy’, anything goes.