Carved in Stone

May 29, 2004

Arthur Nead
Phone: (504) 865-5714

Racing against the calendar, a team of skilled stone-masons is hard at work in front of Gibson Hall.

gibsonThey are assembling 40 tons of precut limestone blocks into several new structures that will grace the St. Charles Avenue entrance of the campus--a unique gift to Tulane from a Tulane parent whose son is graduating this month.

The structures include stone pylons flanking the entrances to Gibson Circle and, in the center of the lawn, a stone wall with bronze letters reading "Tulane University."

The structures have been designed to reflect the period architectural styles of Gibson, Tilton and Dinwiddie halls and, when complete, should look as if they have been part of the campus since it was established in the 1890s.

In fact, the limestone hails from the same southern Indiana quarries that produced the stone used to construct Gibson Hall in 1894. The donated gift provides an elegant solution to a problem Tulane has long experienced as the immediate neighbor of another institution of higher learning on St. Charles--frequently people can't tell where one university stops and the other begins.

"We just didn't have clear identifiers, and we're hoping through this project to be better marked," says Keely Thibodeaux, staff architect.

The project started in 2001 when the Tulane parent indicated he would be interested in donating funds toward improving the front of the campus, according to Thibodeaux. To kick the project off, the university architect's office commissioned a study by Zande+Newman Design, a New Orleans-based graphic design and brand consulting firm.

"We talked to a lot of the people who work right on the circle, who use the circle regularly, from secretaries and FedEx guys right up to [vice president and chief of staff] Anne Banos," says Adam Newman of Zande+Newman, a 1990 graduate of the architecture school.

The researchers felt that in one sense the "front door" of the university is the center front door of Gibson Hall--but there is no easy access to it.

"You 'can't get there from here,'" Newman says. "There's no sidewalk up the middle. So, we identified the fact that the real point where you enter Tulane University is where the circle meets the avenue, and this was not very clear."

The St. Charles Avenue face of Tulane features several of the oldest and most historic buildings on campus, so a major aim for Newman was to preserve the aesthetics of the setting. Placing stone pylons at these locations firmly establishes the entrances to the circle as points of entry to the campus. The pylons are 11 feet tall with three-foot-square cross-sections.

Newman designed them in the Richardsonian Romanesque style that is characteristic of Gibson Hall. Gibson Hall (1894), the first building on Tulane's uptown campus, was designed by Harrod and Andry Architects in this distinctive style, which had been made popular by the prominent American architect H.H. Richardson.

The successor architectural firm of Andry and Bendernagel designed Tilton Hall (1902), situated just west of Gibson Hall, also in the Richardsonian Romanesque style. The last building to be built on the circle, Dinwiddie Hall (1923), to some extent echoes the design of the earlier two, although its style has been described as "Elizabethan."

"We went to great depth to study Richardson, who is from New Orleans," says Newman. "What we wanted to make sure was that we didn't have this sort of corporate office park aesthetic. The Richardsonian Romanesque is very quirky, and we tried to keep it quirky."

To further mark the pylons as campus points of entry, they will be carved with the Tulane shield with the intertwined letters "TU," which has appeared on Tulane buildings for more than 100 years. The second major element being added to Gibson Circle is the new marker bearing the name "Tulane University."

It replaces two cast concrete signs that have long sat in the circular lawn in front of Gibson Hall. Located in the center of the lawn, the new marker is a low, gently curving wall 46 feet long. It also is built of Indiana limestone finished in the Richardsonian Romanesque style. The letters are custom-cast in bronze, and are 10-inches high.

"This has been a collaborative effort between Zande+Newman Design and the office of the university architect," says Thibodeaux.

The university architect's office, headed by Collette Creppell, university architect and director of planning, coordinated the design and construction process, pairing the Zande+Newman Design firm with Steven Finegan, an architect knowledgeable about stone detailing.

The office also coordinated the effort between those two and stone supplier Carr Stone and Tile. The goal is to complete the new campus identifiers in time for the Wave Goodbye party for graduates and their families on May 21. These new structures, so carefully tailored to Tulane's historic architecture, will doubtless be the setting for portraits of proud graduates, their families and friends this May and for many years to come.

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