Albert Hays Town (1903-2005) is one of the most recognized and beloved 20th century Louisiana architects.
Town practiced for more than 70 years and was remarkably prolific, designing educational, office, commercial and public buildings, as well as hundreds of private residences.
Anyone driving on East St. Mary Boulevard in Lafayette has encountered his work; serving as the University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s original Art Center, the building modeled after Louisiana’s Hermitage Plantation sits adjacent to the contemporary Hilliard University Art Museum, acting as a historical foil to the museum’s all-glass façade.
The breadth of Town’s influence on Louisiana’s culture extends way beyond the ivory tower, however. Town is rightfully credited with elevating the region’s vernacular architecture.
When people say they want a traditional Acadian style home, what they mean is they want a reinterpretation of a Town home.
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His design signatures are sought after: shaded breezeways, arched doorways, French doors and eggshell-blue shutters, reclaimed wide-plank pine and brick floors, and courtyards designed as outdoor rooms.
His work has such staying power because of the way he used local materials along with his sensitivity to the home environment and atmosphere.
Town salvaged mantels and floorboards long before Joanna Gaines and HGTV. He created a south Louisiana vernacular by expanding the idea of Louisiana architecture that many consider a distinct Cajun style.
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Students Learn Through Exhibit
The retrospective exhibit, “A. Hays Town and the Architectural Image of Louisiana,” installed at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette Hilliard museum in the summer 2018, explored the historic sources and popular success of Town’s architecture that created recognizable images of a shared homeland.
The exhibit told an intimate, visual story of the evolution of Town’s work and paid well-deserved homage to Town as an architect and designer.
The exhibit began as a highly collaborative project; the exhibition brought together faculty and students from across Louisiana, providing an opportunity for students to gain experience in exhibition research, design and production.
At the same time they engaged closely with the architect’s attention to material details and color, with his unique notions of historical vernacular, and more importantly, with their own 21st century interpretations.
The co-creation process details a story of dynamic interplay between interior design and architecture students, and a curatorial and fabrication team.
The collaborative process explored rich and close engagement with architectural history, making it relevant to the students’ own educational growth.
The students also found their own special place in the process as experts in color. They learned to understand the importance of color in the design process and to take a “color forward” design approach, recognizing it as a major element in Town’s legacy.
Each institution participating in the collaboration provided students with various sources, understanding of methods, and access to Town’s artifacts and textiles.
The process also included home tours and interviews with homeowners, many of whom were the original homeowners and had worked directly with A. Hays Town.
Students were able to compare the original designs with the actual finalized homes and learn more about the architect from the owners’ firsthand experiences.
This case study demonstrates that moving students beyond the traditional single discipline studio and placing them in a cross-institution, multi-disciplinary collaboration provided the opportunity for innovative results.
The collaborative process, that included documentation of color and material selections, and the creation of an exhibition experience engaging the Town legacy, ultimately led to an enriching, visceral student engagement with architectural history.
History, for these students, became relevant and the architect’s legacy continues to shape south Louisiana’s vision of home, as his regional presence and design influence remain dear to the larger Louisiana community.
About the Author:
Nadya Kozinets is an assistant professor in the interior design program at the School of Architecture and Design at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.
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