I feel so very fortunate to have had the opportunity to get to know architect Arthur Q. Davis through my work at the Tulane University School of Architecture, especially in my efforts since the storm to document the modern architecture of New Orleans. In 2008 Mr. Davis graciously met with my Regional Modernism class and made a great impression on the students. He was a colorful storyteller and shared anecdotes from when he studied under Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer and worked for Eero Saarinen, thus establishing within the room a tangible link to some of the great masters of modernism. We are now beginning to understand that Mr. Davis and his partner Nathaniel C. Curtis, Jr (1917-1997) were masters of regional modernism, committed to designing contemporary architecture relevant to our regional climate and urban fabric.
We tend to think of New Orleans architecture only in the vernacular. We tend to privilege traditional architecture over contemporary. We tend to overlook the modern architecture in our midst. But in the 1950s New Orleans was a hotbed for modern architecture and the partnership of Curtis and Davis were pioneers of the new. However the recent losses are staggering. Since the storm we have lost six significant buildings designed by Curtis and Davis - the St. Frances Cabrini Church, four schools (McDonogh 39, Thomy Lafon, Carver and Cabrini) and the Dr. Lyman K. Richardson Residence. In the past few years Mr. Davis frequently lamented that an architect should not outlive his buildings. We are blessed that the magnum opus of the firm, the recently renamed and brilliantly illuminated Mercedes-Benz Superdome, the most recognized building in the state of Louisiana, stands as a testament to the ingenuity and ambition of Mr. Curtis and Mr. Davis.
New Orleans architect Arthur Q. Davis passed away on Wednesday, 30 November 2011 at Ochsner Baptist Medical Center. A graduate of Tulane University's School of Architecture and a World War II veteran, Davis studied with Walter Gropius and apprenticed in Eero Saarinen's Michigan office.
In 1947, Davis received an offer from another Tulane alumnus -- Nathaniel C. Curtis, Jr. (1917-1997) -- to establish a joint practice in New Orleans. The Curtis and Davis partnership lasted nearly thirty years, and its Modernist buildings were once pervasive throughout the Crescent City. Structures such as Thomy Lafon Elementary School (razed 2011), the Rivergate Convention Center (razed 1995) and the Superdome garnered international attention. Journals such as Progressive Architecture, Architectural Forum and Architecture d’aujourd’hui highlighted the firm’s notable buildings, a long list that came to include projects in Germany, Vietnam, and Saudi Arabia.
In 1978, the firm was acquired by the West Coast engineering and architecture office of Daniel, Mann, Johnson, and Mendenhall (DMJM). Davis worked with DMJM for twenty years, and then established his own firm, Arthur Q. Davis FAIA and Associates, in 1998.
In 2009, Mr. Davis published a memoir, titled It Happened by Design: The Life and Work of Arthur Q. Davis, which summarizes his career and his reflections on the profession. He was working on a history of the Berlin Medical Center at the time of his death.
In accordance with DOCOMOMO-US, the Louisiana chapter advocates the documentation and conservation of the City of New Orleans, State of Louisiana and the Gulf South region’s manifestations of the Modern movement.