Joan Mitchell Center Artists’ Studio Building

Soon after Hurricane Katrina, the New York City–based Joan Mitchell Foundation commissioned a state-of-the-art studio building for a newly established visiting artists’ residency program in New Orleans. The Joan Mitchell Center occupies a large, open space in the middle of a residential block in the Esplanade Ridge Historic District, an eighteenth- and nineteenth-century neighborhood.

The center’s 8,000-square-foot studio building, certified LEED Gold for its sustainability initiatives, hugs two perimeter edges of its unusual mid-block site. The L-shaped structure frames a large outdoor green space, effectively creating a campus quad that connects the main administrative building to these new artists’ studios.

With sloped roofs and clapboard siding, the studio building defers to the neighborhood’s historic homes in scale, materials, and architectural character. Accessed from a pedestrian bridge that traverses a new bioswale, the building contains ten artist studios, a common room, a digital technology lab, and support spaces.

The double-height studios are individually articulated, with skylights and large north-facing monitors. This configuration provides ideal conditions for artists’ work, reducing the need for artificial illumination and minimizing direct light. A louvered screen element, designed to mitigate Louisiana’s harsh western light, defines the border between the studios and the outdoor common space.

The lawn is gently sloped to direct storm water to the bioswale and retention pond, providing necessary relief for the city’s strained drainage system. Lee Ledbetter and Associates collaborated with a landscape architect and a native plant specialist to create a natural setting designed to attract local birds and insects, with no for need irrigation after planting.