An optimistic vision to reactivate the city core. In 2005 Hurricane Katrina covered 80 percent of the city with water and damaged or destroyed 62 percent of its housing stock. Despite the city’s enormous loss, its love of music and its musical heritage remains unwavering. Everyone knows the city will rebuild, but few know how. As jazz is the cultural backbone of the city, can it also act as generative material to renew, reactivate, and rebuild? The National Jazz Center offers such a catalyst, an optimistic vision to reactivate the city core and, in so doing, infuse the community with a sense of civic pride.
Within walking distance of cultural venues, historic jazz sites, and parks, as well as public transit and two major interstate highways, the National Jazz Center anchors a round-the-clock cultural district and civic center, and provides an optimistic vision for New Orleans’s rejuvenation. The National Jazz Center’s performance and exhibition space hosts the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra, the Jazz Heritage Festival, and other concert, business, and cultural events.
The raised volumes of the main jazz performance hall and the 350-seat black-box theater float above an open public plinth, elevated 10 feet above street level to safeguard from flooding. Designed to create an intimacy fitting the heritage of jazz performance, the 1,000-seat theater’s spirit is more akin to jazz joint than formal performance hall. Seating in the round and tiered balconies pull the audience in toward the performance, with no seat more than 55 feet from the stage—close enough to see the saxophonist’s expression or the bassist’s hands.
The public character of the Jazz Center’s façade, outdoor lobby area, and colonnade along Poydras Street activates the surrounding urban context. A grand stair leads from Poydras Street to a large entry lobby, which flows into a café and exhibition area located on this public level. The lobby’s soaring ceiling follows the incline of the tiered theater seating above, sloping up from the more intimate 9-foot-high exhibition area, to meet the ridge of the Poydras Street façade. This sloped ceiling, visible from outside, provides opportunities for media projections. The Jazz Center’s grand entry stair, the outdoor lobby area that anchors the corner and the generous colonnade along Poydras will help to create a vibrant public space and an optimistic public presence.b>