New Orleans is known for its abundance of historic architecture which was constructed over almost three hundred years. The architecture of New Orleans is deeply reflective of its multicultural heritage and it is home to a variety of architectural structures including historic mansions, cottages and churches. The city showcases many examples of a variety of architectural styles, highlighting its culturally rich and diverse history. The majority of its buildings are heavily influenced by its French, Spanish and Caribbean roots, which diversifies the urban fabric of the city. The cultural activities and festivals that take place alongside the vibrant nature of the region, make the city of New Orleans a beautiful interactive paradise for residents and visitors.

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The Antebellum Period in New Orleans led to major changes within the city with the population doubling during the 1830s due to an influx of settlers in the region and large numbers of immigrants, including German and Irish, began arriving at this time. By 1840, New Orleans became one of the most populous and wealthiest cities of the nation and the years between 1830 and 1840 were commercially very valuable as the occurrences of that period hinted at the promise of prosperity to the city and its people. A key moment was when New Orleans was reinforced as a major commercial centre as the government of the United States established a Mint there in 1838. The city’s economical advancement continued until the Civil War, however within the history of New Orleans, it was once home to the biggest slave-trading centre in the country. The city has also experienced numerous floods and fires of different scales that destroyed the region’s built environment, such as the infamous flood after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

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View of the Mississippi River and Antebellum New Orleans _© Immunity, Capital, and Power in Antebellum New Orleans | AHR (historians.org) 

During the early days of the American Civil War, New Orleans was captured and as a result, was spared from battle and the destruction of the city. Therefore, the architecture retains a historical and antique quality of 19th century structures, giving New Orleans a greater commercial and political importance within the region. The city served as the capital of Louisiana from 1865 to 1880, and throughout the city’s reconstruction period, was inseparable from the state. Although New Orleans became the centre of many cultural and political struggles over the years, during its reconstruction, the city successfully established a racially integrated public school system which encouraged other advancements regarding societal and cultural equality. 

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Hurricane Katrina was a major incident that destroyed most of the architecture in the region of New Orleans which became a crisis that had to be solved, giving architects the opportunity to create and reinvent the future of this city. The reimagination of the city was created with the expertise and guidance of several architects and urban planners from all over the world. The redesign of New Orleans, to form the architecture of the city we know today, incorporates the features of past traditions as well as contemporary designs of the future. Therefore, New Orleans is known to be home to several architecturally unique landmarks and building types that are widely appreciated and showcase a variety of styles and characteristics.

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St Louis Cathedral in New Orleans _© The 17 most iconic buildings in New Orleans

The Creole Cottage was the dominant architectural building in the French Quarter of New Orleans which portrays a beautiful blend of French Canadian and Caribbean design features. The American Townhouse is another form that became more prominent in style later on in the Central Business District and was characterised by asymmetric windows and iron balconies on the higher floors. Greek Revival and Italianate architecture are the most common style within the built environment of New Orleans, with a few buildings of the Victorian style also featuring among the architecture. Victorian embellishments and structural features are found throughout the urban fabric of New Orleans, especially on the front façades of houses. 

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A French Quarter Creole Townhouse _© New Orleans Architectural Styles

After the fire of 1788, most of the houses were rebuilt using a fusion of different materials and features from various time periods. Creole Townhouses for example were built after the Great Fires in New Orleans and have features and details inspired by Spanish architecture. They usually have houses on the top floors with shops accessible to all on the bottom floor, making them more widely used and incorporated within society. French Colonial Houses were initially inspired by Caribbean designs and when rebuilt were reconstructed using some of the materials from the destroyed structures. The forms were altered and redesigned to suit the New Orleans climate while also adapting French and Caribbean architectural characteristics into the overall design. 

Cultural diffusion and complex communities play a major role in creating the architectural traditions and landscape of New Orleans, which reflect the reality of ethnic status and social groups within society. Each neighbourhood within New Orleans has a distinct history showcased by the city’s impressive architectural forms with the built environment reflecting the cultural gems; characterising the city and creating a region for the community to thrive and grow into the future.

Author

Currently a final year BA Architecture student in the UK; Abbarnah is passionate about art and nature, an avid reader and a believer in embracing culture and spirituality. She hopes to inspire through her artwork and writing; highlighting the beauty and importance of creativity in our ever-changing world.

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