What comes to mind when you think of a New Orleans style house? How do they look like? New Orleans is one of the most unique cities in the United States. Its uniqueness comes from the diverse cultures that influence the city. You can see this diversity in New Orleans food, attire, music, streets and even it’s houses. New Orlean is a colorful city and this is represented in its houses.
Spanish street signs in New Orleans
Today the New Orleans style house is derived mostly from Spanish architectural designs. As a local tourist, I can’t help but stop by and admire the beauty of a New Orleans style house. Its vibrant colors, open balconies and unique designs are what makes these houses interesting. New Orleans houses also had influences from Anglo Americans, The French and the The Creoles. Let’s take a look at these houses and learn some history along the way!
The Early New Orleanian residents after Native Americans were French. In 1788 and 1794, the city of New Orleans suffered devastating fires that brought down more than 1000 homes (source). Later on, France gave Spain control of the state particularly, the city of New Orleans as means of paying their debt. The Spanish rule lasted between 1763 – 1803 (40 years). This was how Spanish influence and culture seeped into the city. Especially their architectures. Warm tropical colors and flat tiled roofs were used in designing the houses. Besides the houses’ beauty, the buildings were (are) made of stucco and bricks; a measure taken by the Spanish government. This was their solution to avoiding the houses burn down like they did before (source).
As time passed by, the Anglo Americans won the war between the French and the Spanish, allowing the Americans to have control of the state of Louisiana. The image above is the Cabildo. This was where the ceremonial transfer of ownership of the state took place (source).
Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop
Very few houses survived the fire of 1788 and 1794, one of these rare houses and oldest in the city is the Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop building, it was built between 1772 and 1791 based on the National Historic Registry, although a historical plaque on the building states that it was built as early as the 1720s. (source)
Although many of the houses in New Orleans are of Spanish influence, there were still influences from France, U.S. and the Creoles. According to The Times Picayune, ” The best surviving examples of this early phase of Creole architecture in the French Quarter are Madame John’s Legacy at 632 Dumaine St. and the Ossorno House at 913 Gov. Nicholls St., both of which date back to the 1780s” (source). A Creole style house consisted of walls made of bricks or mud mixed with moss, an oversized norman roof and spacious wooden galleries. These galleries were a spaced that connected the indoors and outdoors of the house. “Staircases were located outside of the gallery, chimneys were centralized, all apertures had French doors or shutters, hallways and closets were all but unknown, and the entire edifice was raised on piers above soggy soils”- The Times Picayune.
The Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop has a Creole roof and center chimney but lacks a gallery and raised construction because it was built for a commercial purpose and not a residential purpose- The Time Picayune
The shot gun house is another architectural design that can be found in New Orleans. It is a narrow rectangular domestic residence with rooms arranged one behind the other and a door at each end of a house. Shotgun houses may have developed as local builders erected traditional Creole cottages in a rotated fashion (source). The idea of a long and narrow house was motivated from the increase of 9,000 Haitian refugees who arrived at New Orleans in 1809 (source). The refugees brought with them the elongated vernacular house designs of Haiti, which could be traceable to West Africa.The shotgun houses today look similar to the Ti-Kay dwellings seen throughout modern Haiti (source).
There are many theories that try to explain where the creoles got their architectural designs from. One theory states it came from French Canada and later adapted to local conditions. A second states that it’s directly from France.
A third and favored explanation sees Creole architecture as an extraction from a West Indian cultural milieu, itself a product of European, indigenous and African influences, such as the Arawak Indian Bohio hut and possibly West Africa’s Yoruba hut (Source).
What once felt like a Caribbean village was now starting to look like a Mediterranean city. Wrote Scottish visitor Basil Hall in 1828, “(w)hat struck us most (about New Orleans) were the old and narrow streets, the high houses, ornamented with tasteful cornices, iron balconies, and many other circumstances peculiar to towns in France and Spain.”- Times Picayune
Although the French and Spanish influence is apparent in New Orleans. You can still find other cultural influences as well. And these other cultures have also mixed with the French and Spanish. That is what New Orleans is all about.
I hope you enjoyed checking out these building and also learnt something new.
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