Student Presentations

The Gary Comer Youth Center–>GARY COMER FINAL

The Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild–>MCG board

The Music Resource Center in Charlottesville, Va–>MRCslides-FINAL

Live Arts, Charlottesville, VA–> Live Arts_handout 2

MacPhail–> MacPhail Handout


As a part of the Roots of Music Experience, we made presentations both to the board members of the Roots of Music organization and also to the children, about the possibilites for what music resource centers can do.  These presentations are posted here.

Maurice Cox on RootsofMusicWorkshopPDF

INTRO to The Roots of Music Workshop Presentations

September 15, 2010

Associate Professor Maurice Cox

Hello Everyone. Good Afternoon.

My name is Maurice Cox. I’m a professor of architecture at the University of Virginia and I’m also an architect.  Another professor of architecture, Betsy Roettger and I, are in New Orleans for a week visiting and studying with 26 students of architecture from the University of Virginia.

Will all the UVA students in the room identify themselves?

Our students, like you, have come to the Roots of Music today to learn something new. We been told that you come here after a full day of school to learn how to play a musical instrument and learn the discipline of marching in a band while playing your instrument at the same time. Takes a lot of practice, right? Our students are here to learn how to become an architect by watching you practice today and observing every thing that goes on in this building. I’ll explain how you’re going to teach us something in a second.

But first, does anyone actually know what an architect does?

How many of you have seen a new buildings coming up in your neighborhood or anywhere in New Orleans? (show of hands) Who can name at least one building, any building new or old, in New Orleans where, lets say, music is created, played, or performed? (kids try to answer)

Who do you think created that building?

Well before the construction workers show up and start constructing the building someone imagines what that building is going to look like. That person is an architect. And they make a lot of money (not true, but compared to other jobs these kids are exposed to–what smile) because they lead a very large team of other people who make the buildings that we live, work and play in—buildings that stay around for a very long time.

So, like you PLAY instruments, we DESIGN buildings.

So, what is design?

Design is simply solving problems. You first identify a problem, lets say, a problem in your neighborhood, or in your city—then, you turn it in to project. You come up with a lot of different images of what the answer looks like, then, if you are lucky, you build it. I’ll give you an example–The Roots of Music has become so good at teaching young people to play instruments that 100s of other kids want to come to learn, as well. Guess what?  Your teachers don’t have enough space to fit 100s of other students.

That is the design problem that we’ve come to learn how to solve. We have chosen in our training to become an architect to practice with you and your teachers in Roots of Music.

We’ve come to design is a new Youth Center for the Roots of Music.

So, just remember–Architects invent things by turning problems into projects, then–we make drawings and models of how the project will look and work and how it change the place when it eventually will be built.

But, before you start to design a building we have to first meet and work with someone that we call THE CLIENT—you and your teachers are our clients and by letting us sit-in on your rehearses you are helping us understand everything that goes on in the building that will be the new Roots of Music Center. As the architect, we also show the client other buildings and programs that are doing things like the Roots of Music from around the country. We call that Design Research.

So what is going to happen now is that my students are going to you two examples of buildings and music programs, “What’s Out There?” That we think are really cool. Afterwards we’ll ask you as the Client, what you think and what you would want the Roots of Music to become?

Are you ready?

Graduate Student Presentations of:

Music Resource Center

Gary Comer Youth Center

Manchester Craftsman’s Guild

Live Arts Community Theater

MacPhail Music Center

After Student Presentations are done.

So, you say you want to be an architect?

In order to become an architect they have to study a very long time.  You have to study way beyond middle school to become an architect. After middle school the first step is to be really good in high school.  After high school what do you think you have to do? You have to go to college.

How many of you once you’ve finished high school want to go to college?

Good, because in order to become an architect have to first go to college for four years? Do you think that you’re finished studying then?

No. You have to go to get even more training for 2 or 3 more years of school. The students that presented to you today and showed buildings where music is created, played or performed are in the middle of that training.

So, how many of you want to be an architect?


Sorry for the delays!  Posted here are our presentations that we brought to New Orleans to show before several panels.  This presentation in particular examines ways to intervene in the infrastructural systems of New Orleans– specifically the London Avenue outfall canal, and the I-10 corridor that is slated for demolition in the near future.  This was based on a 2 week charette project where we examined the history of New Orleans and sought to make significant changes in the way that the city engages water and its own city fabric.

In the canal projects, we followed the lead of the Dutch Dialogues project who proposed changing the levee wall typology and converting the outfall canals into urban wetlands, making their residents more aware of the wet conditions of the city as a positive, not a negative force.

For the I-10 corridor, we examined ways to re-stitich and re-imagine the city fabric in its absence, re-establishing neutral ground territories, adding commercial devel0pment, and providing parkland and other recreational spaces.

The slides for the presentation are posted here–> Presentation

One of the phrases used often to describe New Orleans is “paradox city.”  This phrase is indeed true, and in terms of New Orleans it is infinitely expandable, to include the troubles stemming from water control and management, both the lifeblood and the major threat to the city, to the robust culture, now turned artificial—amplified to satisfy the rabid tourism trade.  There is almost nothing in New Orleans for which there does not exist a polar opposite—engaging in constant dialogue as the city struggles to come of age in the contemporary world.

An except from our initial envisioning of New Orleans.

The Water Issue

It is a well known fact that the entity of New Orleans would not exist whatsoever without the yearly flooding of the Mississippi River.  This sense is both true in the geological and in the historical time frame.  The whole southern tip of Louisiana would still be located in the gulf of Mexico had not the roaring Mississippi River deposited silt over hundreds of millions of years.  As the river aged, the outflow wandered back and forth the landscape, creating the delta and lowlands upon which the city of New Orleans sits.  But all of this would have been pointless had the river not been an essential shipping artery for the continental United States.  Before the advent of railway transport, and before the Erie Canal provided easy access routes to the north via the Great Lakes, the Mississippi was the only reliable way to move goods and services from the northeast region and distribute it to the rest of the country.  Furthermore, the expansion of the French slave trade and the realization that the hot wet climate of the southern US was perfect for growing sugarcane and cotton caused a flourishing industry in New Orleans.  In many ways, the city was perfectly sited to economically control most of the country with its control over the river.

But control over the river turned out to be the city’s detriment.  Flooding has continued to be a huge problem in the city as the over-engineered river resists the controls that the Army Corps of Engineers has placed around it.  Paradoxically, the earliest, least controlled river turned out to be the most predictable.  The garden district and the French Quarter, both built on terra firma, have proven least susceptible to flooding, while the newest engineered parts of the city are in danger of inundation.  The danger is exacerbated by the methods used to control the water—pumping and draining of the outfall canals to manage rainfall in the city has caused massive ground subsidence.  The alluvial silt that makes up the ground in New Orleans depends upon moisture to hold its content.  As the water leaves the ground, the earth compacts and sinks, placing already vulnerable areas under sea level.  This is the cause of much of the flooding during the Katrina disaster—the over-management and absolute control over the water caused a much more catastrophic event than if the water had been allowed to infiltrate.  The key conflict is that the goals of the builders and planners in New Orleans was to totally eject the water, perpetuating a cycle of escalation where every attempt to further control and contain the water has only made it more dangerous if the control mechanisms break.

With a general paradigm shift in the design fields away from absolute control over climate and weather, toward a more nuanced model, perhaps water will once again be turned to an essential asset in New Orleans.

Music and Culture

The culture and music scene in New Orleans too relies on essential conflict as a foundation for its ongoing success.  The distinctive New Orleans sound first originated from those that existed on the fringes of its mainstream society; the black slaves on the plantations and their freed counterparts kept and cultivated their native cultures.  They blended and mixed their religions, their music, and their food with that of the dominant white culture, creating the vibrant Creole traditions that we know today.  New Orleans was one of the few southern cities that allowed their black populations the freedom to retain their local traditions, little knowing what a huge influence this would make on the continuing development in the city.  The plantations are long gone, but the music survives—a testament to the city’s resilience and adaptability.

Strangely however, those very qualities that have drawn people to New Orleans, and what makes the city unique in comparison with other cities in the United States, are indeed SO successful that they have become frozen in their peak moments of creativity.  The music and and food have become the foundation for the booming tourism industry in New Orleans—an industry that has supplanted the shipping and other hard industries that supported the city in the Industrial Age.  Tourism demands that things stay static—that the essential qualities of the Jazz music, the gumbo and the jambalaya, be exactly what the visitor expects to see.  As a result innovation and creativity, once fostered in an effort to create identity in the face of an oppressor, is now stunted because the identity of the culture is so well entrenched.  In addition to the traditional Jazz Brass band, we need artists like Lil Wayne or Brass Bands that sample from the outside culture to move their improvisation forward.  Louis Armstrong is and was extremely important, but we should be using him as a stepping stone, rather than blindly imitating his style.

Rebirth and Decay

Walk around the older neighborhoods in New Orleans and your senses are assaulted by the profound melancholy of a world in decay.  Even the beautiful homes in the Garden District, with their wide, deep porches and their manicured lawns, they still seem to whisper a sadness at the lost grandeur that they feel.  Venture into the French Quarter, and outside of the buzzing neon signs of Bourbon Street, and you enter a world in which peeling paint is normal, if not desirable, and speaks to the atmosphere of an old world city in the same way that falling patches of stucco are endemic to Venice.  The guttering of the porch lamps (not electric lights) add an ambiance of mystery, and the shutters are closed against the heat.  The city cultivates its ghosts and the patina of age, adding a sense of authenticity to its hard earned cultural legacy.  Do the bright glow of the clubs and bars and the thump of the dance beats undermine the stirrings of jazz and the damp breeze in the gardens?  Can both exist in New Orleans?  Or will authenticity give way to mimesis, the cultivated age give way to a manufactured patina, and the city drown its own past?

Wealth Disparities

The very disparities that made a vibrant Creole culture in the city’s early years have proven to be a cause of strife and heartache in the modern world.  From the beginning, the aristocracy of few wealthy landowners supervised and dictated over a large subordinate population of black slaves, running the plantations that populated the banks of the Mississippi River.  This distinct difference—in cultures, in space, in power, created a dynamic that brought New Orleans alive.  The Treme neighborhood was once an area where both black and white lived and worked together, and mitigating their differences to make a strong whole.  But in other parts of New Orleans, the poor were shunted out to the low lying and poorly managed neighborhoods like the Upper 9th ward, and even the houses that were built to contain them were eventually torn down in the name of urban revitalization.  Highways built in the name of progress severed the two halves of Treme from one another, causing one half to migrate white, and the other black, breaking the whole that had existed previously into constituent parts.  The rich grow richer while the poor grow poorer.

The 2005 disaster of Hurricane Katrina only exacerbated these problems.  The government was slow to respond and enacted policies that indirectly pushed the urban poor into further conditions of despair and squalor.  Many of those living in the poorest areas of New Orleans have been unable to return, or if they have returned have been unable to rebuild because of inadequate funding and grants that only return the pre-flood value of the home, neglecting to factor in the cost to rebuild it.  The wealthy areas were the least damaged and the easiest to recover, and the problems grow worse.  And with no real source of industry to rely on, the urban poor are increasingly marginalized.

Self Organization and Chaos

One of the important lessons to draw from these paradoxes in New Orleans is that the capacity for self organization, for the appearance of chaos and the encouragement of hybridity have brought by far the most success, compared to the egomaniacal top down type of control that is typically brought to “solve” social and economic problems.  The city is a product of emergence—of the capability of a number of small actors, acting in a localized fashion, to enact great change on a macro scale.  This is true even in the urban fabric, where shotgun houses and the distinctive city blocks emerged from a desire to have as many people access the street front as possible, similar to the Venetian palazzo type that developed a distinctive front window on the canal.  Deep porches become distinctive in an effort to manage the heat, and the wrought iron a product of the availability in the post-industrial-revolution  (and perhaps also a lack of available hardwoods).  People clustered around regions with distinctive qualities and atmospheres, the Americans in the Garden District, the French in their Quarter, and the blacks in their own.  The music flourished through self-propagation and expansion and the runaway successes of the style as it spread to Chicago and New York.

New Orleans today still contains many of the same characteristics that would make it an ideal place to foster emergence—it still lacks much of the top down organization that formed imperial cities like Paris or London, and instead functioned like Venice or Amsterdam with a strong merchant class that could dictate the forms that the city would take.  Even without merchants, the city still relies on its citizens to do what the government does not—grass-roots organizations like the Roots of Music, for example, which act locally to produce change.  Still, these are usually limited by the lack of funds and the general depression of the economy that fails to produce a critical mass necessary for emergent behavior.

What we should take away from this is to encourage the hybridity that created New Orleans in the first place, to use its culture as a jumping off point without stagnating it, and to envision a future in which it is once again a thriving economic center.  Perhaps one that, as suggested by our critics in New Orleans, specializes in embracing the dynamic conditions of its water.  Or, as the Roots of Music would like, one that works to further the music scene and bring youth out of conditions of poverty.  New Orleans’ paradoxes may indeed be the foundations for a better tomorrow.

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