When Peter Kilgust was selected as a finalist for Curbed’s Young Guns 2014—which honors under-the-radar design professionals—he talked about building modern architecture in New Orleans’ historic districts, where shotguns and grand Greek Revival and Italianate homes reign.
"There's no doubt that the reason the city is so charismatic is because of that history and because of those old buildings and systems. But I definitely think there's a need and a responsibility to use modern systems in new construction, while respecting the context and scale of where we've been," he said in the interview. "To me, it's more offensive to try replicating something that's been done, that was beautiful."
Now he’s living this idea in the Lower Garden District, where he and his wife Ashley, a wealth advisor at Iberia Bank, live in the modern home he designed that is both forward-thinking and harkening back to a more dense, urban Jackson Avenue.
Kilgust, who works with Williams Architects now but has also worked with New Orleans modern pioneers Lee Ledbetter Architects and Bild Design + Build, studied architecture at Tulane University (he was moving into the dorms as a freshman right as Hurricane Katrina was preparing to make landfall). Much of the program prepared him for the forward-thinking work he does now.
"The majority of our education was geared toward thinking about modern systems and modern theory. I guess I have an interest in all types of architecture, no doubt, but I think it’s fun to think about it in a new way," he says. "It’s challenging, and the way we should be doing things. This city’s a perfect testament to things that are beautiful and old but also things that can be progressed in everything—architecture, technology, really every field."
But even after graduation in 2013, when he and his now-wife were looking to buy a house, they planned to do what many in New Orleans do—buy a historic home and renovate it.
"We were just sort of doing the math of what was available, and what we’d have to put in to fix up an older home, and at some point we just decided that it made more sense to build," he says. "At the time, I was already doing residential modern architecture and I was familiar with how to build a home of that scale."
As a student of architecture, Kilgust approached the project thoughtfully.
"We had the challenge of working within the historic district. It’s a challenge in terms of logistically getting it worked out, but at the end of the day I think it’s a pretty helpful process, because you work with a team of people in the city who help keep modern architecture to scale and context," he says. "That was really the goal of the project, aside from doing something more sustainable in terms of materials and longevity of systems, to do something that in our eyes kind of fit contextually with the surrounding neighborhood."
The Kilgust home sticks out: it’s a narrow modern structure on the corner of a sparse block of Jackson Avenue, a few blocks from the river on one side, and the now-abandoned Sara Mayo hospital that will eventually become apartments on the other. But the home imagines a more dense future on the street.
"When we started thinking about the context of the house—of course Jackson Avenue where we are is not dense right now, but at some point it was," he says. "We saw it as a place that could be pretty urban, so we started thinking about the house as what it would be like in a more dense neighborhood, which hopefully will happen at some point. The process there is to build up and to maintain a footprint that’s in keeping with future infill."
Although the home is characterized by clean, modern lines and simplicity, the couple has a established an inviting home here. The layout—where all the bedrooms are on the ground floor and the kitchen and living area are on the second—gives the space a distinct place to relax with each other and host friends, something important to the couple. A balcony and deck provide views of the riverfront neighborhood. Peter says he frequently catches the couple’s dog, Tuff, staring out the home’s many windows in between long naps.
"The idea was that the upstairs would be the sort of hang out zone where we can take in this view of the city and also the noise and visual traffic of the river," he says. "Really, being removed from the street is nice; you feel like you have a sort of panoramic view of what city living is."