New Orleans Marine Hospital 1867 was Rammed Earth


The all-iron Marine Hospital, innovative in its day, yet doomed by construction costs. Photo / Theodore Lilienthal

A new book of essays, New Orleans 1867: Photographs by Theodore Lilienthal, on rediscovered photographs of New Orleans in 1867, written by the curator of architecture and design at the MIT Museum, shows how the city tried to rebuild its economy and retrieve its prestige in the aftermath of war. One of the photographs is of a vast, domed building under construction at the edge of the city turned out to be the Marine Hospital, New Orleans’ version of Boston’s Big Dig. The iron building, insulated with rammed earth, was thought to be lighter and therefore better suited to swampy local conditions, as well as fireproof. The proposal was innovative but the technology was costly, a sinkhole of federal money. Never completed, eventually demolished, the hospital was one of the most advanced buildings of its time, but it has been forgotten today.

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