Richardson Memorial Hall, home to the Tulane University School of Architecture, which was long overdue for modernization, is being renovated after decades of slow decay.
The building is expected Reopening in autumn 2023.
Marred with outdated mechanics, leaky pipes and mold, the school aims to make the building safe and healthy with optimal classrooms and studios, standardized air conditioning, accessible bathrooms, two fire escapes and elevators. 15,000 square feet will be added to the already 50,000 square feet of interior space.
In an interview, Iñaki Alday, Dean of the Tulane School of Architecture, explained the historical significance of this building. From its original design in 1907, the building served as a medical college until the 1960s, when architecture students slowly rushed in to occupy the space.
“It was like Occupy Wall Street,” Alday said.
“This building lends itself perfectly to the architecture,” he said. “It’s very simple, very clear. You stand in front of the facade and you see a central volume and then two large wings that are big and tall and full of light and these are our studios. Also the fifth floor is beautiful under the roof in the middle.”
The fifth floor of the Richardson Memorial was once a large amphitheater where students could observe and perform surgeries on cadavers before a fire destroyed the space in 1986. A unique manual elevator with windows visible from the outside was used to transport these bodies.
“The building has a lot of history and a lot of stories,” Alday said.
Trapolin Peer Architects is leading the project, although during the first phase of the design, a number of faculty co-designers worked with Trapolin Peer Special Spaces to share ideas and collaborate with students on new proposals.
Students will soon be participating in site visits once Trapolin has completed the refurbishment and selective demolition. They are currently removing toxic materials such as asbestos and lead paint from the building, stripping down ceilings and interior walls, and cleaning the interior and structure.
Then Trapolin begins construction, setting piles in the ground, foundations, columns, slabs and facade. The students’ site visits will be linked to some of their courses in Building Services, Climate and Comfort and Comprehensive Studio, allowing them to see in real life what they are learning in the classroom.
Alumni are raising a third of the funding for the renovation while Tulane is spending the rest. The building’s antiquity can be seen in the “B-board cladding on a brick foundation, fourth-story structural timber trusses that connect to the roof, timber to steel to timber,” said Nick Licausi, Tulane’s production manager.
Licausi said he’s particularly looking forward to the state-of-the-art manufacturing laboratory being centralized in the north wing of the building, the large windows offering natural light and re-imagining itself with hidden equipment.
“Architecture brings together the humanities, the arts and the sciences,” said Alday. “We are part of cultural mediation. A building has to work well.”
“It’s like watching your house being built,” he said.