The following email came to me recently from a retired professor emeritus of architecture at Tulane. His name is Geoffrey Baker, and his appraisal and appreciation of my almost-completed villa on St . Charles in New Orleans is one of the most erudite architectural critiques I have read in a long time. Please read it and be amazed!!!!
Hello Ken Tate,
I have just been looking at your magnificent house under construction on St Charles. It lifted my spirits in a way that's hard to describe. Way back in the 1950's, when I trained in the School of Architecture at Manchester University, my first architectural hero was Filippo Brunelleschi. I practiced in Preston, Birmingham and London and taught at Newcastle University for 12 years, producing 3 books on the work of Le Corbusier. On taking up a teaching post at Tulane in 1988 my interest shifted to genius loci, spirit of place, and that made me aware that the Classical style is the most eloquent and comprehensive architectural language ever created.
The greatest cities in the West have all been classical in inspiration. In their unity, diversity, richness and elegance, they are beyond compare. My investigation of spirit of place tells me that this is the key to understanding any city, and what matters is that the 'soul' of a city should be preserved and enhanced. Your house is the finest example of the classical genre I have seen in a long time, its proportions, massing, rhythms and colours show this to be the work of a master. I salute you. I spent several retirement summers in Siena, and you have captured the poetry of Italy, with splendid massing that includes lovely picturesque gems.
In its historical awareness, inventiveness and careful interpretation of styles, your work reminds me of Lutyens. New Orleans is partly a fantasy city of eclectic treasures, balanced by a sound vernacular tradition of remarkable integrity, in which the basic models remain popular. I can’t think of a better defence against the soulless banality of so many modern works works than your Renaissance Villa with its Palladian overtones. You are a great ‘composer.’ This work ‘sings’ and truly belongs on that grand avenue. For me, this is the test, as I have no regard for the chaotic and confusing ‘riot of the imagination’ encouraged by poorly educated modern teachers. Louis Kahn once said, “what does a brick want to be?” To that I would add, “what does St. Charles Avenue want to be?” You have answered that question. We could also say “What does New Orleans want to be?”
I drive along St Charles a lot, and each time I do this now my heart will be warmed by your villa, recalling treasured memories of great architecture. You have made an old architect very happy.
Geoffrey H Baker, professor emeritus, School of Architecture, Tulane.