The Piazza D'Italia, a postmodern architectural icon designed by Charles Moore and August Perez III in 1978. Colros/Wikimedia Commons

August Perez III's influence on his city is everywhere you look.

August Perez III had an incredible impact on the way New Orleans looks today, from its skyline to Mardi Gras. Perez, one of the city's most important architects of the 20th century, passed away last week at the age of 81. His funeral will take place on Saturday in Metairie, just outside the city he helped transform.

Taking over his father's architecture firm in 1975, Perez quickly made his mark on postmodern architecture, teaming up with Charles Moore to design the Piazza D'Italia in 1978. The public plaza, filled with architectural winks, remains one of the most defining pieces of postmodern design to this day.

Perez and his firm were given an even bigger responsibility soon after the plaza's completion, the 1984 World's Fair. The event's architecture expressed a playfulness much like Moore and Perez's piazza.

The gondola lift during its short life in New Orleans. (Courtesy Perez, APC)

It also introduced the gondola lift commute to the United States. Developed by Perez along with the Mississippi Aerial River Transit, the network took riders over the Mississippi River from the West Bank to the Warehouse District, where the fairgrounds were located. Like the rest of the event it was built for, MART was a financial disaster. Shut down due to low ridership in 1985, the group behind it defaulted on an $8 million loan that same year, and in 1989 the gondolas themselves were seized by U.S. Marshals. (They live on in a climactic chase scene in the 1986 thriller French Quarter Undercover.)

The fair's financial woes and low attendance dampened its legacy, but the event accomplished what Perez and its organizers had hoped for: a revitalized Warehouse District. After years of decline, the former industrial area (where Perez moved his firm to before the fair) began a slow transformation into an arts and culture district. Today, galleries and restaurants have turned the area into a popular tourist spot.

A scene from the 1984 World's Fair. (Courtesy Perez, APC)

Even outside the world of architecture, Perez found ways to make an impact on New Orleans. The Krewe of Bacchus, of which Perez was a founding member, built larger, more elaborate Mardi Gras floats than the typical krewe and, breaking convention, invited celebrities to be parade kings.

It's hard to look at the New Orleans skyline today without seeing something that Perez had his hands on. From hotels to casinos to public squares, the architect stayed busy until his retirement in 2000. "He was responsible for half, if not more, of the high rises going up in the city at the time," says Perez's successor at the firm, Angela O'Byrne. "He was deeply committed to improving the city."

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. A Fifties-style diner with blue booths and chairs and pink walls.
    Design

    Why a ‘Memory Town’ Is Coming to Your Local Strip Mall

    Weeks after opening near San Diego, a model town for treating dementia is set to be replicated around the U.S.

  2. Design

    How Boston Got Its ‘T’

    Designers Peter Chermayeff and Tom Geismar talk about how they gave the MBTA an enduring makeover.

  3. Life

    Remembering the ‘Mother of All Pandemics,’ 100 Years Later

    The Spanish flu outbreak of 1918 offers important lessons in balancing truth and panic during public health crises.

  4. A large tank truck parked in front of new apartment buildings.
    Life

    The Divides Within, and Between, Urban and Rural America

    Economic growth is not only uneven between urban and rural places—it is uneven within them, too.

  5. Transportation

    Why Did America Give Up on Mass Transit? (Don't Blame Cars.)

    Streetcar, bus, and metro systems have been ignoring one lesson for 100 years: Service drives demand.