The Modern Phillis Wheatley, And Brand New Ancient Things

Phillis Wheatley was a poet — the first slave and the third woman in the US to publish a book of poems.  She was kidnapped in West Africa, and brought to Boston in 1761 to be a servant for a woman.  Phillis did not enjoy good health but she learned English, Latin, and Greek classics.

In 1767, she published ‘Poems on Various Subjects’ and that same year the man who had ‘purchased’ her had her emancipated.  She even did a book tour that took her to London.  She met George Washington, and Voltaire complimented her on her poetry.

No wonder that a school in Treme (in New Orleans), or anywhere really, would want to be named after someone who accomplished so much in so little time, under such circumstances.

In 1955, the Phillis Wheatley school was built.  The architect was Charles Colbert, who designed it with 22 classrooms for 770 students.  The structure was raised, giving children additional space to play underneath, in the shade of the building.  It’s cantilevered, has open corridors for accessibility to rooms, and enjoys bilateral lighting and cross ventilation. It’s a steel and glass Modernist beauty.

And it didn’t get water from Katrina: the three feet or so did not reach the first floor by virtue of the building being built raised.  Afterwards, though, the school was not reopened and it sits now slated for demolition late this summer.

The Louisiana Landmarks Society named the school to the 2008 New Orleans Nine Most Endangered Sites.

This is the huge part: it is considered so important that the World Monuments Fund (!!) added the Phillis Wheatley school in Treme to its 2010 watch list.  

This new (wonderful) video discusses the Phillis Wheatley school — its meaning to the community, and its significance architecturally:

A Plea For Modernism from Evan Mather on Vimeo.

While looking up what other sites the World Monuments Fund seeks to bring attention to, I found its annual lists for several years.  Inside are photographs and descriptions of the most incredible, dream-like places around the world…

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