Full Circle

Greater New Orleans Foundation finds new home in historic locale
The Lee Circle elevation of the new Greater New Orleans Foundation Center for Philanthropy blends cast stone, locally manufactured St. Joe brick and glass in a composition that is both contemporary and contextual.

When the Greater New Orleans Foundation was looking for a new place for its center for philanthropy and foundation headquarters, it chose a site on historic Lee Circle. Having outgrown its leased offices at the K&B building at 1055 St. Charles Ave., the foundation hired Waggonner & Ball Architects to help create a state-of-the-art facility.

Greater New Orleans Foundation links donors and nonprofits together and helps manage funds. “To have a place to point to and say, ‘That’s a center of philanthropy’ is important,” says Waggonner & Ball Principal, Mac Ball. “It’s probably one of the most important sites in the city. Getting that site was of great importance for them. To rebuild that street wall and the fabric of the city was a great thing to do.”

Lee Circle has had many lives through the course of the city’s history. Formerly known as Tivoli Circle, it was once a residential area; it served as a camp for troops during the Civil War; it was a public park; and now it is currently home to the now controversial monument of Gen. Robert E. Lee.

TOP LEFT- A view down into the main lobby from the bridge overlook on the second floor. A video art piece by Courtney Egan illustrating magnolias flowering and unfolding is projected on the concrete wall of the main stair, providing a sense of movement and wonder for the space. TOP RIGHT- The staff lunchroom, which overlooks the courtyard garden behind the building, also functions as a conference space for staff members. BOTTOM LEFT- Loft space on the second and third floors is where GNOF program work is done. Good lighting and an open layout are key to the collaborative work method used at GNOF. BOTTOM RIGHT- The Chevron Learning Center at the corner of St. Charles Avenue and Lee Circle is a multi-purpose space for public engagement, lectures and workshops. The large painting is by Louisiana artist Francis X. Pavy, on loan from the Arthur Roger Gallery.

“In the ’30s, it became a place where you tanked up your car,” says Ball. “The Shell Station where we built this site was one of them. It was like a covered Phillips station. Then it became a little shack of a gas station. Then we got the site.”

The first order of business was to clean up the site and make it fit for construction. The old fuel tanks had to be removed, and once the site work began, the team discovered foundation slabs. Another challenge was creating the design itself.

“It was a balancing act to get the best façade and building materials that would make it fit into the site and make it look like a civic building,” says Ball. “We had to make it tall, so we made it as thin as we could to get it up to three stories. One of the ways we did that was put a porch or loggia at the top.”

LEFT- The main stair is enclosed in a cast-in-place, board-formed concrete container. The stair runs are separated by a custom designed millwork element built of responsibly sourced Douglas fir. RIGHT- The rear of the building is a clear glass curtain wall that faces north and opens the entire building up to views of the adjacent garden. The garden and the 32-car parking area are designed to capture and store rainwater and can hold water from a 10-inch rain event to help prevent street flooding on Lee Circle and the surrounding area. Stored rainwater is also used for irrigation of the raised, landscaped plaza and garden.

The result is a semiclassical yet contemporary design. The building is clad in cast stone and bricks by St. Joe Brick Works Inc., located in Pearl River. It curves with the circle and features a gridlike curtain wall of windows facing into the courtyard.

“I think a lot of the inspiration for me is warehouse buildings in the district that are masonry and have depth and shadow,” says Ball. “I love historic buildings, and they certainly are an inspiration for us.”

At A Glance

Company Name:    Greater New Orleans Foundation 

Address: 919 St. Charles Ave.

Office completed: Nov. 15

Architect: Waggonner & Ball Architects

Interior Designer: Waggonner & Ball Architects

Furnishings: DKI Office Furniture

Square footage: 22,000 square feet

Budget: Construction cost about $9.4 million; total project cost $13 million

Main goal: Visibility, presence and a public face

Biggest challenge: Cleaning up the site and fixing foundation problems

Standout feature: The courtyard and the porch or loggia

Ball says one of the firm’s goals is to incorporate demonstrative water features into all of its projects. For example, the courtyard at GNOF has a water management system that stores roof runoff water in underground tanks. Additionally, the parking lot has permeable asphalt, which eventually directs water into the soil.

The porch or loggia at the top is the perfect spot for parade watching and to show potential donors an excellent view.

“It’s like a treehouse,” says Ball. “It’s a great place to show off the city.”

Inside, a board-form concrete wall extends all the way up to the third floor. The horizontal lines were created by constructing a form out of the boards, then knocking them out.

“It doesn’t look like Sheetrock,” says Ball. “It has some strength. Because that stair is the main way to get up in that building, we wanted it to be like the core of GNOF. They are tough, they do good things and they’ve been around. It’s like a metaphor for the foundation.”


Categories: Real Estate, The Magazine