What comes to mind as most people think of the state of Louisiana? It is food, fun, French language, and the zest for life shown in the way Louisianans celebrate life in their everyday living. Preservationists, however, suggest there is something else playing its equally special role in promoting the uniqueness that is Louisiana. Preservationists advance the idea that Creole architecture is one of the aspects of Louisiana that make it special. Even though the French and the Spanish tried to colonize the vast area from the Gulf Coast and via the Mississippi River into the heartland of North America, these cultures were overwhelmed in time by the onslaught of Anglo-Americans and their own culture. However, in south and central Louisiana remnants of French, Spanish, and other cultures remain. These mixed culture remnants include a significant Creole building tradition that survives even to the present.

Experts do not agree as to the origin of traditional Creole architecture. Its important features are said to be imported from the West Indies, Canada, and France. Other experts cite the importance of Creole ingenuity and adaptability to accommodate Louisiana’s humid climate and damp ground in their architectural style. The "adapted" Creole house most likely resulted from the combination of local needs and imported ideas. Of America’s six colonial building traditions, Creole architecture is the only one actually to have evolved in America. The Swedes, Dutch, Flemish, Spanish, and British all imported building types from the mother country instead of developing their own native colonial styles.

A distant ancestor of the Creole house most probably was the Italian double loggia house, which had first appeared in the Spanish West Indies in the sixteenth century. In the West Indies its front “loggia” (the central open area flanked by a single room at each corner) was changed to a full-length gallery, while the rear loggia and flanking rooms stayed intact. Creoles called these rear corner rooms cabinets. French settlers in the Caribbean copied the house but altered the internal plan to meet their preference for asymmetrical room floor plan arrangements. This house design was what French planters from the West Indies brought to Louisiana.

Also, blended into the house design are the Canadian spreading roof plus the internal chimney, the popular French wraparound mantel, and a unique kind of timber frame construction indigenous to northern France. As expected, the new Louisiana house evolved as a folk adaptation because of use of local building materials. Out of the folk adaptation came three distinct residential types of the Creole house. They are the single-story house or cottage, the raised two-story plantation house, and the townhouse.

Creole houses shared several common features. Early examples were built using Norman truss roof systems and heavy-braced timber frames. The space between the timbers was filled with either bricks or bousillage, a confection mixture of Spanish moss and mud. The Creole house was built with multiple French doors and rather large galleries beneath broad, spreading rooflines. Weather permitting, the galleries served as sitting rooms, dining rooms, and even bedrooms (with curtains put up on iron rods between the columns for privacy). Because of this gallery use, Creoles often decorated the galleries as outdoor rooms with cornices, wainscoting, and chair rails. However, in tightly packed New Orleans the Creole cottage typically had no gallery, only a roof overhang.

Early Creole houses featured broken pitch roofs. As time went by, houses had straightly pitched gable or hipped roofs. Piers or blocks raised houses several feet up from the ground. Creole decorative elements used often included chamfered or turned gallery columns, wraparound mantels, exposed beaded ceiling beams, and utilization of a French diamond-shaped parallelogram dubbed a lozenge. Wraparound mantels centered on boxed chimney flues on interior walls. Wealthier homes added elegant overmantels.

Creole single-story house floor plans varied, but there was always one range of rooms paralleling a front gallery. This range, or set, consisted of a nearly square salle (parlor) and at least one narrow chambre (bedroom) adjacent to it. Three to five rooms stretched across the front of larger houses. Often, a second range of rooms was behind the first. Most houses included a rear cabinet/loggia range, too. The rooms generally opened directly into one another; thus, most houses lacked hallways.

As colonial planters prospered, grander houses appeared. The raised Creole plantation house still possessed many of the distinguishing characteristics of the single-story house but added several new special characteristics of its own. An example is Homeplace, located on the Mississippi River’s west bank near Hahnville. This house’s lower floor is an unfinished above-ground brick basement used for general storage plus other utilitarian purposes. The primary living area is the much decorated frame upper floor. Full encircling galleries are on both levels. Outlining the lower gallery is a row of thick brick columns. The upper gallery is outlined by narrow turned columns. Exterior stairways connect the two floors. This raised Creole plantation house represents the apex of Louisiana’s Creole architecture.

The Creole building tradition also spawned a uniquely important outbuilding type, the pigeonnier. Pigeonniers, small tower-like structures with upper-floor nesting boxes for birds, appeared on the most prosperous Creole plantations. An office was sometimes housed on the lower floor. Pigeonniers, generally in pairs, were located to ornament the plantation complex’s overall appearance. Fewer than twenty pigeonniers still exist in Louisiana.

Creole townhouses were built in more populated areas like Natchitoches and New Orleans. Natchitoches is the site of an excellent example of this type building. Ducournau Square is a two-story brick building with an iron balcony stretching across its façade. The first floor is used for mercantile pursuits, and the second floor serves as the main living space. There is a wide, gated carriage passage connecting the street with a rear utilitarian courtyard, which is surrounded by service structures. Additional outdoor living space is provided by a rear gallery.

Creole architecture was dominant in the state on into the nineteenth century. New architectural trends brought into the state by the Anglo-Americans altered slightly the Creole houses, but distinctive Creole-style houses appeared well into the 1880s. Some architectural experts argue they were built even after that. Modern houses built with Creole galleries and rooflines exist today.


The participant will . . .

o    Understand that Creole architecture is unique to American architecture.

o    Will be able to identify the unique characteristics of a Creole house.

o    Will be able to describe the three types of Creole houses.



Unit 1: Background
Unit 2: The Creole Cottage
Unit 3: The Raised Creole Plantation House
Unit 4: The Pigeonnier
Unit 5: The Urban Creole Townhouse
Unit 6: Creoles and Their Houses
Unit 7: Creole and American Society and Culture


Lesson Plans 

Lesson Plan
Creole Heritage Powerpoint
Louisiana Historic Resource Inventory Form


Activity 1: Vocabulary Memory Game
Activity 2: Creole Cottage Recipe
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