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Architect Desmond dies


La. resident honored often for his work
  • Advocate staff writer
  • Published: Mar 29, 2008 - Page: 1B - UPDATED: 12:05 a.m.

Architect John Desmond, whose designs of the Baton Rouge River Center, Louisiana State Library and other notable pubic buildings helped shape the face of the city, died Thursday at a Zachary hospital. He was 85.

Desmond and his firm, Desmond, Miremont and Burks, designed the LSU Student Union, Louisiana Naval Museum, Bluebonnet Swamp Interpretive Center, Louisiana Arts and Science Center, Louisiana State Archives, Pennington Bio-Medical Research Center and several churches in Baton Rouge and Hammond.

“He’s really one of the giants of midcentury modern Louisiana architecture,” said New Orleans architect Allen Eskew, who was influenced by Desmond’s style.

Desmond was renowned for translating early Acadian design elements into modern structures — without merely reproducing the traditional architecture.

“I think he was one of the early leaders in embracing vernacular sensibilities without replicating it as a style, and I think that was John’s brilliance,” Eskew said.

Desmond’s pen-and-ink drawings have been exhibited across the nation and published internationally. His design work garnered numerous honors, including a lifetime achievement award from the Louisiana chapter of the American Institute of Architects.

A native of Denver, Desmond spent his childhood in Hammond and graduated from Hammond High School in 1937. He earned a degree in architecture from Tulane University.

After college he served as an engineering officer aboard the USS Madison, a Navy destroyer, during World War II. Following his release from the Navy, he earned a master’s degree in architecture from MIT.

Desmond’s firm held dual offices in Hammond and Baton Rouge until the 1970s, when he began working exclusively in Baton Rouge.

He also taught architecture at Tulane, LSU and Southern University.

In 1986, the Foundation for Historical Louisiana awarded him its most prestigious honor, the Preservation Award, which he received for raising awareness of the past through his preservation work and his historically influenced modern designs.

FHL director Carolyn Bennett said Desmond was both “talented and generous-spirited.”

“Every time I would ask him if he would help us in any way, maybe sketch something for a brochure or give us the rights to use one of his designs, he was just always so kind,” Bennett said.

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