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How the new Louisiana Children’s Museum teaches kids about their city’s complex relationship with water

DATE POSTED:October 9, 2019
Aerial view of the new Louisiana Children’s Museum and surrounding lagoons Photo by Webb Bland via Mithun

An interview with architect Rich Franko

From bath-time to beaches, encounters with water can be a joyful part of childhood. But for children in New Orleans circa 2008, when the new Louisiana Children’s Museum (LCM) was in its planning phase, water was connected with trauma.

“Post Hurricane Katrina, water became a threat,” said Rich Franko, partner at Mithun, the sustainable design firm that spearheaded the project’s design. “When we started in 2008, the museum was coming to planning from the post-Katrina era, and that’s what made them rethink their mission.”

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Franko situated the new museum by City Park’s lagoons. Its placement allows children to connect with their environment in a controlled, educational way: via boardwalks, art projects, and water features. The LCM is a living testament to southern Louisiana’s complex relationship with water, its status as “a place where water and land are constantly interwoven and interdependent,” Franko said.

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That vision is reflected in the museum’s design, which includes a floating classroom that provides an intimate look at Louisiana’s wetlands; its installations, including a fog sculpture by Fujiko Nakaya; and its back porch, which overlooks City Park’s lagoons.

Elevated five feet on a site that flooded during Hurricane Katrina, the LEED-certified building is a model for responsible water usage. Cisterns feed its food garden, which supplies the museum cafe. In a move that is consistent with the New Orleans Water Plan, a green stormwater infrastructure approach, the museum grounds can accept up to 3 feet of stormwater from surrounding neighborhoods

“The new LCM is set up in a way that the landscape and building are interwoven,” Franko said. “The thing we want children to take away from the building and landscape would be a positive engagement around water and the environment, a sense of play and delight in these native landscape elements.”

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