Unique Architecture of New Orleans, Louisiana

by Cassandra McCullersAugust 15, 2017

Originally founded by the French then ruled by the Spanish for decades, New Orleans is truly an amazing place with a vibrant history, spectacular cuisine and a wonderfully rich multi-cultural approach to life. New Orleans is also a unique destination with a very distinct look and feel about it, reflected by the incredible architecture that can be found throughout the city. As one of America’s oldest cities, some buildings date back to the 18th century and almost half of its buildings were built before World War II. Historic districts each make their own statements, from the iconic bars and shops of the French Quarter along Bourbon Street, to the storybook mansions that line St. Charles Avenue.

There are two elements that really define this city’s unique architecture: the building type and the architectural style. The building type is the bones of the building – elements such as how many rooms it contains, its height, the width and the roof-line. The architectural style lies in the decorative elements, such as the windows, the presence and design of columns and brackets, the style and material of siding and the color.

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via Nola Homes

Some building types throughout this handsome, historic city are tied to certain architectural styles. You’ll see a lot of Arts and Crafts Bungalows, for instance, but you’re unlikely to see a Queen Anne Creole Cottage. Of course, many buildings (especially those designed by the original owner rather than an architect,) are an eclectic mixture of elements and styles. Buildings built during periods when popular styles overlapped offer a fascinating glimpse into the evolution of architectural styles over time.

Building Types

Flourishing in the 1790s through the 1870s, Creole Cottages are New Orleans’ earliest local building types. These cottages are typically one to one and a half stories tall, two rooms wide and two rooms deep, with cabinets (small storage rooms) attached in the rear of the house. Most cottages either have four French doors or two French doors and two windows on the front side of the house. Exteriors are typically either stucco or wood.

While townhouses are a common sight across the nation, New Orleans has its own interesting spin on this American classic. With most examples built between the 1790s and the 1890s, New Orleanian townhouses are two to three stories and two rooms deep, with a narrow facade. There are multiple styles of townhouses. Creole townhouses lack a first floor hallway and have a carriageway rather than an entrance door. American townhouses typically have a grand front entrance leading to a hallway. Double gallery townhouses have galleries on all floors that cover the full width of the facade.

Common in the American South, the center hall cottages found in New Orleans were mostly built between the 1830s and the 1880s. These delightful cottages are usually two rooms wide and two deep, with a central hallway running from the front to back, with two side cabinets and a service porch in the rear. Most have a wide porch with a door flanked by two sets of windows across the front to take advantage of breezes and to cool off the home during the hot summer months. Roofs are usually side-gabled with dormer windows.

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via Gardner Realtors

Descended from Caribbean styles, shotgun buildings are inexpensive and efficient, making them easily one of the most popular historic styles in the city from the 1830s all the way up to the 1950s. A simple shotgun is one room wide and three to five rooms deep, with no interior hallway – instead each room opens onto the next in a line. A double shotgun is two simple shotguns next to each other, under the same room, with a symmetrical facade of two doors and two windows. Side gallery shotguns have a long covered porch to one side, acting as an exterior hallway, while side hall shotguns have an interior hallway. Camelback shotguns have a second floor over the back of the building.

Architectural Styles

Developed in New Orleans from French, Spanish and Caribbean origins, the Creole style is one of the city’s earliest architectural styles – found mostly between the 1800s and 1840s. This elegant yet simple style involves large six-over-six windows, French doors, shutters attached with strap hinges on all windows, no dominant entrance, and exteriors of brick, weatherboard or stucco.

Greek Revival is a style that flourished in New Orleans from the 1820s-1860s. Although it’s found throughout the country, New Orleans put its own unique spin on this popular style. The trim around doors and windows is usually wide, flat, and plain, sometimes with either pedimented or “Greek key” designs. Most buildings have full-height porches with classical round or square columns, frequently with a pediment on the top. While most commonly associated with high-style architecture – mansions, plantations and commercial buildings – the Greek Revival style can also be found on all sorts of cottages and shotgun-style houses.

As a 19th century revitalization of Italian Renaissance architecture, the Italianate style flourished beautifully in New Orleans from the 1850s through the 1880s. Most Italianate buildings have tall, double-hung windows with arched tops and hood moldings, symmetrical facades, extensive eaves supported by brackets and weatherboard or wood siding.The similar Queen Anne and Eastlake styles, sometimes called ‘Victorian’ styles, both came into vogue in New Orleans around the same time; the 1870s through the 1900s.

The related Colonial Revival, Neoclassical and Edwardian styles flourished from the 1870s through the 1930s. The Neoclassical style is generally much more elaborate than the Colonial Revival style, while the Edwardian style tends to be fairly plain in appearance. The styles involve six-over-six double-hung windows, porches supported by classical columns, egg and dart and dentil moldings, and doors with sidelight windows and fanlights over them.

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via Cotton Cashmere Cat Hair

While it gained its greatest popularity in the 1920s and ’30s, the Arts and Crafts style occurred from the 1900s through the 1940s. Arts and Crafts involves using unadorned building parts as decorative elements. Arts and Crafts embraces “natural” and “rustic” materials for the roof and siding and deep porches with large, tapering columns and overhanging eaves.

A number of revival and eclectic styles also flourished in the Big Easy from the 1900s through the 1950s. These homes drew their inspiration from all over the world and throughout history. Spanish Colonial or Mission Revival is a common example of one of the revival styles, featuring Spanish tile roofs, arched entryways, wrought iron window grills, stucco, a red-and-tan color scheme, and other elements recalling Spanish missions found across the Southwest.

New Orleans is truly a special destination, for the occasional tourist interested in America’s history, to families looked to establish roots, to retirees looking for a beautiful community in which to celebrate their twilight years. And with its incredibly diverse assortment of colorful, elegant, and eye-catching building types and architectural styles, there is truly something that can appeal to everyone, making New Orleans a wonderful place to call home. Laissez les bon temps rouler!

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About The Author
Cassandra McCullers
Cassandra is a writer with a background in engineering, enjoying the rural life in the Virginian Appalachians. When not working, she enjoys writing fiction, running a blog, camping, working in the garden, and tending to her flock of chickens! In addition to writing, she has a passion for art and graphic design. Her interests include disaster preparedness, homesteading, landscaping, cooking with natural ingredients, history, and animal husbandry.