New Orleans architecture on the Web

February 12, 2001

Arthur Nead

Uptown mansions, lakefront 'modern' architecture, shotgun cottages, Creole cottages-they can all be sampled in seemingly infinite variety using a new online resource, the New Orleans Architecture Database. The Web site, scheduled to "go live" this month, will be available for use by departments across Tulane and by the public at large.

The Web site, which can be located at, is a project of the School of Architecture, the Southeastern Architectural Archives, and the Academic Center for Learning, Research and Technology (ACLRT). In 1998, as part of a technology in the classroom initiative, the provost's office provided a grant to the architecture school and the archives to digitize architectural images in order to make them more readily accessible for classroom and research use.

"I had an interest in digitizing the school's image collection so I could use it in lecture format digitally," says Scott Bernhard, associate professor of architecture. Easy access to the digitized images will "greatly facilitate my ability to put together a presentation on a particular characteristic, rather than digging through the slide collection," he says.

Until now, instructors have been faced with the time-consuming task of searching through drawers in the slide library when they assemble a sequence of images to illustrate lectures. An average architecture lecture for Bernard requires about 60 slides. The digitized system developed by ACLRT will allow instructors to choose and organize a collection of images in the computer and save it for later use.

"Next year, I need only modify the previous year's lecture, rather than reconstruct it from scratch," says Bernhard. As a key part of the project, the architecture school acquired a digital classroom projector that can project images directly from the Web, according to Bernhard. The school's collection includes more than 4,000 New Orleans architectural images in the 35 mm slide format.

In addition to the architecture school's New Orleans slide collection, the Southeastern Architectural Archives' antiquated glass lantern slide collection is also targeted for digitization. "There are thousands of old lantern slides here," says curator Gary Van Zante.

The large slides were once projected by "magic lanterns," cumbersome forerunners of 35 mm slide projectors, and were used for decades by classroom lecturers in the architecture school and other departments. When the lanterns were retired, the slides fell into disuse.

"For New Orleans architecture, they represent an important resource, because they include images that aren't found elsewhere," says Van Zante. "Some are original photography or early copy photography. They were made from the 1890s through the 1930s, and perhaps into the '50s."

The lantern slides are a critical part of the project, says Van Zante. Resurrecting access to the images through 21st-century technology will bring them into the classroom again. When the New Orleans Architecture Database goes public, it initially will include approximately 2,500 images, according to Francine Judd, the architecture school's curator of visual resources.

And the online collection will continue to grow and evolve, she says. Judd is deeply involved in the project, scanning the slides and transcribing information about the images. "We're pulling together resources from different collections so these images exist in one place together, where they didn't before," she says.

Significantly, the database offers more than a catalog of buildings or architectural styles-it also includes a number of pictures of life in New Orleans, showing carnival parade scenes, Mardi Gras Indians in full regalia, baptisms in the Mississippi River and marching jazz bands on New Orleans streets. "Architecture is more than just buildings," says Judd. "Jazz funerals, Mardi Gras, they're all a part of this city-this living organism."

Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000