Architect Connects to Community

December 10, 2003

Mary Ann Travis
Phone: (504) 865-5714

For Collette Creppell, Tulane's buildings--old and new, uptown and downtown, across the lake and river, in a shopping center--have a life and purpose of their own.

creppelThe new university architect and director of campus planning says, "The buildings are not just inanimate objects--we can learn from them."

Creppell, former executive director of the City Planning Commission of the City of New Orleans, assumed her duties at Tulane on Oct. 1. She reports directly to Yvette Jones, senior vice president for external affairs.

Creppell's primary goal, she says, is "to work to implement the university's strategic plan," with the objective to foster the university's institutional development through ongoing improvements to the physical campus in all its locations.

Her commitment is to help "realize the educational and research mission of the university through its built environment." Reaching these goals, Creppell says, "is a question of how do you build an institution through its physical as well as intellectual environments?" Creppell is already familiar with Tulane and its neighborhood. In fact, she is a neighbor herself. Creppell, her husband and three children live on Broadway in the heart of fraternity row.

"Essentially we say we live on campus." She's also taught at the School of Architecture as a visiting, adjunct and clinical professor. And she previously taught at Harvard Graduate School of Design, Boston Architecture Center and Harvard College.

Through her own architectural firm--Design for Public Spaces--she designed the renovation of the Newcomb College Center for Research on Women, including the Nadine Vorhoff Library and Seltzer-Gerard Reading Room on the first level of Caroline Richardson Hall in 1996-97. Before her return to New Orleans, she worked for Pritzker Prize-winner Rafael Moneo in Spain. Her roles of designer, neighbor, teacher, city planner and university architect are "seamless," says Creppell.

"There are no disconnects. I feel like I'm working on the strength of the city through the strength of the university." She is convinced that Tulane and its neighbors "build a shared vision" for the community. On Tulane's part, as the largest non-governmental employer in the city of New Orleans, the university plays an exciting role in the way it "fits into the overall picture for the city."

As she gazes out the window of her current Gibson Hall office, where palmetto fronds press against the panes, Creppell says, "The starting point is that this campus is so beautiful." The impressive buildings, the spacious quads, the pockets of green space, the trees, the campus spilling out into Audubon Park--Creppell appreciates the whole landscape.

She says, "It is an honor to be in a position to help orchestrate, preserve and enhance it." Two major projects--the University Center renovation and the new Zemurray residence hall--move into construction during the next few months. Creppell is pleased with the way that students' quality-of-life issues have been addressed in both projects.
The architects and planners for the University Center, for example, have kept the focus on making it a "green," environmentally innovative building. Natural ventilation, clever use of shading from the sun and energy-efficient fans will help cool the building. The Zemurray project, a 21st-century design, incorporates "timeless principles that you don't want to forget but sometimes we do."

These design elements include courtyards, balconies, shutters, and sheltered and shaded spaces that work well in the New Orleans climate and at the same time create shared community space for students. Creppell lightly observes that one reason the architectural continuity makes sense is that "it still rains about the same number of days a year as it did a hundred or two hundred years ago." Creppell sees Tulane's strong sense of place in New Orleans as an attribute to be cherished and strengthened as the university moves forward.

Creppell, whose family's roots in Louisiana date back generations, highly values classic New Orleans architectural features. She admits that she has no air conditioning or heating on the main floor of her house. Instead, historically tried-and-true ceiling fans and screened-in porches moderate the temperature. Creppell is a member of the Campus Planning Executive Committee and chair of the Campus Design Review Committee. In this milieu Creppell has discovered another positive environment at Tulane-- the decision-making one.

In the few weeks she's been in her new position she's found that "the approach is: everybody pitch in, stay engaged and figure out the best thing to do. It is a delight to be here."

Mary Ann Travis can be reached at

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