While its elevated platform design protected it from destruction by Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans' Phillis Wheatley Elementary School now faces forces stronger than those of 2005: neglect and disregard. The glass and steel structure was designed by architect Charles Colbert (1921-2007) in 1954. It uniquely situates itself among the surrounding 18th and 19th century architecture of New Orleans with its innovative modernist glass and steel design.
Phillis Wheatley Elementary School, 1954 Image: WMF 2009
Docomomo US/NOLA (New Orleans, LA) is currently is struggling to preserve the building and has suggested the adaptive reuse of the space as a community center— thereby, engaging and integrating the community within one of the most innovative monuments of mid-century Modern architecture in New Orleans. Regardless of the design accolades that the building has received, including recognition by Progressive Architecture in 1955 and Colbert receiving the Louisiana AIA Medal of Honor in 2006, the building’s future is still in peril. The Orleans Parish School Board never reopened Wheatley after the hurricane, and it has since fallen victim to decay and vandalism. School officials now have plans to demolish Wheatley and construct a new school in its place. The World Monuments Fund recognized the fragility of Wheatley’s situation and included the building in its 2010 World Monuments Watch list.
Phillis Wheatley Elementary School, Image: WMF 2009