The Historic New Orleans Collection is a renowned institution dedicated to preserving the history and culture of New Orleans and the Gulf South. The HNOC’s assets include multiple historical buildings on two campuses in the Vieux Carré that serve museum, research, and publishing functions. Proceeding from comprehensive strategic planning, Waggonner & Ball's design expands existing facilities with restoration of the Seignouret-Brulatour House, reviving original features, including historical materials and colors, and carefully inserting a contemporary exhibition wing. Completed in April 2019, the restoration is home to a permanent French Quarter history exhibit, welcome center, gift shop, offices, and café, while the Tricentennial Wing addition comprises multiple generous galleries to host revolving exhibitions. Waggonner & Ball’s integration of old and new extends throughout the details, including the design of all gallery furniture, and to rooftop cooling towers, depressed below the line of sight, and special attention to light monitors and other roof elements, as all exterior surfaces fell under the architectural review of the Vieux Carré Commission. Awarded LEED Silver Certification, the project is one of the oldest LEED buildings in the country and the first to be certified in the French Quarter historical district.
Newly anchoring the HNOC’s Royal Street campus, the Seignouret-Brulatour House dates to 1816 and boasts a storied history, home over time to wine importers, furniture craftsmen, bohemian artists, and the state’s first television station. Waggonner & Ball’s design reenvisioned “Brulatour Court,” one of the best-known in the French Quarter, as the meeting place of old and new. Carefully articulated to preserve the scale of the courtyard, Tricentennial Wing quietly announces its presence while reflecting the historical courtyard space.
Respect for the historical fabric, bolstered by the HNOC’s commitment to conservation, informed all aspects of design. Antique pine, Massachusetts granite, and natural hydraulic lime plaster were reappropriated from the existing building into the new. Tricentennial Wing received a double-layered façade to match existing eave heights, tucking a taller concrete wall system behind the outer glass facade. At the courtyard, a long-hidden well was returned to prominence with a walkable glass cover, a reminder of the city’s high water table and connection to the Mississippi River.
Site constraints and a commitment to historical preservation did not preclude environmental responsibility. In addition to LEED goals, the design incorporates large steel tanks (17,000 gallons total capacity) to intercept stormwater and relieve the city drainage system during peak rain events. Other design challenges included threading museum-grade HVAC systems through historical spaces with low clearances and devising temporary braces to stabilize existing brick party walls until new load-bearing walls at the addition were in place. Critical support elements include exhibition prep spaces, an emergency generator, a secure vehicle sallyport for deliveries, and a 1,000 cu. ft. custom elevator for transporting exhibit items and visitors alike.
Major preservation efforts were necessitated by age and neglect but aided by research and field discoveries. Crews extensively leveled, repaired, and repointed the original brick and timber structure. The design team specified barrier systems to limit rising damp, and thermal analysis was utilized to identify concealed termite damage. Preservation at the street entailed removal of paint layers from granite façade elements and reconstruction of a long missing brick and plaster cornice and historical shop windows. Existing courtyard and carriageway flagstones were salvaged and reset. Herringbone brick flooring was recreated with historical accuracy after early examples were discovered beneath concrete slabs. A local stair specialist came out of retirement to restore an unusual cypress timber stairway. Skylights shown on 19th century maps were adapted to serve current exhibition needs. Returning a music room to the 1920s era involved cast plaster repairs, decorative painting, and the complete restoration of an Aeolian pipe organ.