Splendor in the City

September 29, 2004

Mary Ann Travis
Phone: (504) 865-5714

Reed Kroloff, the new dean of the School of Architecture, slipped into town for freshman orientation in August. What he experienced both surprised him and confirmed what he expected all along.

kroloff"The decrepit splendor of New Orleans was in full bloom. It was wonderful," says Kroloff. "The trees were heavy with leaves and hanging over the street. The air was thick. The grass was green. The campus was resplendent. People were wearing seersucker and bow ties. I felt as if I had stepped out of time."

The beauty of the city, he had anticipated; the spirited, well-organized orientation, he had not, but he is delighted. "It augurs well for the way the university is run. It was such a promising beginning and collegial in all the best senses of the word."

Such literary descriptive ability might seem unusual for an architecture dean. But Kroloff is not your father's architecture dean. He's brash, he's irreverent--and he likes the ephemeral power of words as much as he likes the solid shape of buildings.

He doesn't even mind being called "cheeky," which The New York Times did in 2003.

Tulane provost Lester Lefton says, "Reed is a visionary thinker, an astute architecture critic, and a widely known and respected architect. He brings to Tulane a vision and clarity of purpose that will allow us to move to the next level."

He also was the unanimous choice of students and faculty, Lefton adds. Kroloff has degrees from Yale University and the University of Texas. At Arizona State University, he was associate professor of architecture and served as assistant dean of the College of Architecture and Environmental Design. From 1995 to 2002, Kroloff was editor-in-chief of Architecture magazine. He also has been a consultant on architectural projects and practiced architecture in Texas and Arizona.

In 2003, he won the Prix de Rome from the American Academy in Rome and spent six months there studying Italian design magazines. He has led dozens of architect-selection committees around the world for major, multi-million dollar projects, such as an addition to the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City; the 9/11 memorial at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.; and the Motown Center museum in Detroit.

The New York Times says he's "the man with the list at architecture's party," as he sets the agenda for architectural competitions and hobnobs with architect icons like Frank Gehry. While he was in New Orleans during the dog days of August, Kroloff had fun driving down Baronne Street. He observed the progression from "wonderful and picturesque to challenging and hardscrabble to wonderful and picturesque again in the space of 20 blocks."

He saw "endless opportunity and tremendous difficulty, all very much apparent on the street." The highs and lows of New Orleans have long intrigued Kroloff. He rhapsodizes about the city that he says is among the top three or four most interesting and unique in the United States. Good buildings make good cities, says Kroloff. So does culture. Progress and preservation? No problem. They are not antithetical.

"In fact, they are mutually supportive," says Kroloff. "Preservation can be progress. Let's not forget that the old architecture that we're straining so hard to preserve now was new architecture when it was built. It took the city in new directions."

Kroloff says that Tulane's architecture school has the opportunity to create something that no other architecture school can. New Orleans conjures up a "heated image," he says. "We have to make sure that the architecture school builds on that image and helps people understand that it isn't just the romantic, fictive notion of New Orleans that makes it an interesting place. It's the gritty, fantastic, splendor of New Orleans that offers architects and architecture opportunities that are simply unavailable anywhere else."

He says all architecture students should learn to be convincing in what they say and what they write. "We are going to work hard in the School of Architecture--all of us, faculty and students alike--to make sure that verbal literacy in architecture education is given greater emphasis than it has had in the past."

Kroloff's goal is to make sure that when high school students consider where they should go to architecture school, "Tulane is immediately in their minds." And when people think about where significant research is being done in architecture, they think about Tulane "in a wide variety of subjects, ranging from preservation to healthcare to cutting-edge design to the creation of healthier, better communities. "This is an old school, a well-established and well-respected program that has exceptional potential. We want to move the school further into the spotlight."

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