When Mardi Gras Came Early
A Höweler + Yoon installation brought brightness to New Orleans
David Sokol -- Interior Design, 2/1/2008 12:00:00 AM
Jazz, beignets, and lacy wrought-iron balconies. All typify the French Quarter in New Orleans. But recent visitors to the revitalizing area got a taste of contemporary inventiveness, too. DesCours, an eight-day architecture and visual-arts event sponsored by the city's AIA chapter, invited up-and-coming designers to create installations in 19 locations. Höweler + Yoon Architecture's Hover presented a large-scale challenge to the Quarter's picture-postcard identity.
Participating in DesCours gave Eric Höweler and J. Meejin Yoon the chance to witness New Orleans post–Hurricane Katrina. "The Lowe's was just swamped," Yoon recalls. "So many people are making repairs." Although the French Quarter didn't suffer critical damage, residents have developed an acute appreciation for the fragility of architecture—a state of mind that forced the architects to tinker with the design they'd envisioned from the comfort of their Boston office. That first plan included anchoring bolts to the house of screenwriter Mari Kornhauser, who'd offered the AIA her rear courtyard as an installation site. On Höweler and Yoon's first tour of the property, however, they noticed that their hesitant host was pausing to introduce them to every chip and crack resulting from the storm. To assuage her fear of more damage, they decided to abandon their power drill. Instead, they wrapped a belt of stainless-steel cable around the house, right beneath the eaves, and used stainless turnbuckles in the side facing the courtyard to attach one end of the stainless wire that would eventually form a network overhead; the other end was threaded around the shutter bolts of former slave quarters opposite. From that wire, the architects' team suspended 14 aluminum-framed modules of happy yellow and white nylon.
During the day, they swayed in the breeze like oversize buttercups while flexible photovoltaic film, attached inside, collected solar energy and converted it to electricity. At night, that power lit up LED rings encircling the bottom of each module. Such a use of an independent energy source assumed new resonance in New Orleans. "The idea of self-reliance is poignant," Yoon notes, in a city abandoned in its time of need.