The Foundation for Historical Louisiana (FHL) has retained the architectural firm of RMJM Hillier to complete an independent assessment of the Medical Center of New Orleans. “Big Charity,” as it is called locally, was closed by the LSU Health Sciences Center in September 2005 after Katrina. Today, the National Trust for Historic Preservation named Charity Hospital and the adjacent neighborhood in New Orleans to its 2008 list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places.
"This study to re-invigorate Charity Hospital, a healthcare icon in Louisiana, is an important opportunity,” said Steve McDaniel, AIA, Principal with RMJM Hillier. “We are very pleased to be leading a team that includes experts in a wide range of fields including historic preservation and healthcare design. We will be as creative as possible in producing a viable concept for re-using Charity as a modern healthcare facility."
“The Charity Hospital is an important historic landmark in New Orleans,” added Dr. George C. Skarmeas, AIA, Preservation Architecture Studio Director with RMJM Hillier. “It deserves a careful evaluation to produce a sensible and sustainable plan for its future."
Charity Hospital is the premier example of Art Deco architecture in New Orleans and carries with it a historic legacy that reaches back more than 250 years. Classically designed with streamline elements, the H-shaped building was designed by the firm of Weiss, Dreyfous & Seiferth, which also designed the Art Deco State Capitol in Baton Rouge. Founded in 1735 to serve the indigent, Charity’s social impact derived from its commitment to progressive health care for the poor. In addition to being the second oldest continuing public hospital in the United States, Charity was the second largest hospital in the nation until it was closed in September 2005.
Charged by the legislature in House Concurrent Resolution 89 to assess the building, the Foundation sent out a Request for Qualifications to more than 45 top architectural firms across the country that had experience in both healthcare and historic preservation. Two firms were short-listed for presentations. These firms were allowed a complete walkthrough of the million square foot building, arranged with assistance from the State Office of Facility Planning and LSU.
“Many in the New Orleans community want to know if the hospital can be reopened,” said FHL Board of Directors Vice Chair Sandra Stokes. “The FHL is committed to fulfilling House Concurrent Resolution 89 of the 2006 Louisiana Legislature to provide a thorough independent assessment of the condition of the facility and to determine the viability to provide interim medical services, including emergency services, psychiatric services, and establishment of clinics and subspecialty clinics.
“The Foundation for Historical Louisiana selection committee chose RMJM Hillier based on their international reputation in both healthcare design and preservation projects,” she continued. “Their innovative ideas, as well as their economical approach to reuse Charity Hospital for medical care, made the firm an excellent selection. They, along with the local partner, Waggonner and Ball Architects of New Orleans, are the ideal counterpart to work with the Foundation for Historical Louisiana to fulfill our charge in HCR 89.”
“The Foundation has established a dedicated Charity Hospital fund for the assessment of this cultural and architectural landmark,” said FHL Executive Director Carolyn Bennett. No funding was provided by the Legislature when the resolution was passed. “The National Trust for Historic Preservation provided an intervention grant immediately after the storm and the Foundation will continue to make a major push both statewide and national donations to carry out this mandate of the legislature,” said Bennett.
Walter Gallas of the National Trust for Historic Preservation said, “We are excited to see this assessment reaching this milestone with the naming of a highly-qualified consulting team. The resulting report will be a critical tool not only in determining the future of this monumental historic building, but also in the planning for new LSU and VA medical facilities that will seriously impact the Mid-City National Register neighborhood nearby.”
"It is important that Charity be brought back into the life and commerce of the city in some way. A new life for this historic structure can make a vital contribution to the renewal of Downtown and the Medical District, and serve as a potent symbol for New Orleans and for Louisiana," said Mac Ball, Principal with Waggonner and Ball Architects.
RMJM Hillier has extensive experience in both hospital design and historic preservation, two key criteria presented in the request for qualifications. RMJM Hillier preservation projects include the United States Supreme Court, Virginia Capitol, Lincoln Cottage, Payne-Whitney Gymnasium at Yale University, and the Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal, one of the largest Art Deco buildings in the country. The firm’s architectural healthcare experience includes renovations, new design, and adaptive reuse projects for some of the nation’s leading healthcare providers including the Bristol-Myers Squibb Children’s Hospital at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Jersey, University Medical Center at Princeton, Duke University’s new graduate medical school in Singapore, and Gouverneur Healthcare Services’ addition and renovation in New York.
The Foundation anticipates RMJM Hillier on site this week, and a final report is anticipated in approximately 12 weeks.
This is RMJM Hillier’s third project in New Orleans; the firm is also designing the new Louisiana Cancer Research Center and a master plan for Tulane University Medical School and Life Sciences.