Nationally Recognized Architectural Firm Says Charity Hospital “Structurally Sound” and Ready for Transformation to State-of-the

Nationally Recognized Architectural Firm Says Charity Hospital “Structurally Sound” and Ready for Transformation to State-of-the-Art Modern Medical Facility

A comprehensive architectural assessment of the Medical Center of New Orleans was released today by the Foundation for Historical Louisiana (FHL) demonstrating that “Big Charity” can be rehabilitated as a state-of-the art medical facility according to RMJM Hillier, the architectural firm that conducted the assessment.

The FHL was charged by the Legislature in House Concurrent Resolution 89 to “examine and evaluate the entire Big Charity structure to determine the advisability of repairing or restructuring the entire facility.”

“Our assessment shows that there are no fundamental flaws that would impede the rehabilitation of Charity Hospital into a state-of-the-art modern facility,” said Dr. George C. Skarmeas, founding principal of RMJM Hillier’s Preservation Architecture Practice Group. “Big Charity is one of the premier examples of Art Deco architecture in New Orleans and its rehabilitation would provide the most sustainable way to create a contemporary hospital while preserving a key part of the city’s history. The re-use of this iconic historic landmark would be a symbol of New Orleans’ rebirth.”

“Charity Hospital has the potential to be a very good healthcare facility in its design, floor space and close connection to a community with serious healthcare needs,” said Steve McDaniel, RMJM Hillier’s leader in designing healthcare and research facilities. “Renovating and modernizing Charity Hospital will take much less time and will be significantly  less expensive than building a new hospital. Big Charity’s current vacant state allows for an easier upgrade to a modern state-of-the-art facility including a new main entrance lobby on Tulane Avenue, a Level 1 trauma center and new patient-centered environment.”

“We know there are rumors about the condition and status of Charity Hospital since its closing after the storm. This assessment provides much-needed facts and an in-depth analysis with supporting data to clearly demonstrate the facility’s viability for transformation into an ultra-modern medical facility, in the fastest and most cost effective manner,” said Sandra Stokes, vice chair of the FHL Board of Directors.  “The rebuilt charity Hospital would be completed two years earlier than a new hospital, saving million in financing costs, the expense of running an interim hospital and loss in revenue that would result from the extra time needed for a new facility.”

Exterior rendering of what Charity Hospital could look like with renovations.

According to the assessment, the building envelope, including exterior walls, windows, and roof, can be effectively restored. The structural system is extremely sound, and with a few modifications, it will be fully functional as a state-of-the-art healthcare facility. Having this useful and structurally sound building shell already in place should save at least 2 years off the delivery date of a new building, which would require acquiring a very large parcel of land, relocating the people who live there, and building from scratch a brand new building. Charity’s vacant state allows easier upgrade to state-of-the-art facility and the re-use of existing buildings is a sustainable way to build.

The building footprint, with its H-shape, complies with modern hospital design goals of enhancing day lighting and providing views from all rooms. The existing floor plates are workable for a first class healthcare facility, except for the 3rd floor, which RMJM Hillier proposes enlarging, the report states.

The assessment calls for the removal of all interior partitions, ceilings, and finishes to ensure that no environmental concerns remain and seeks a new interior fit-out of the entire building as well as an innovative entrance atrium. The recommended design will meet the latest code requirement for hurricane-force winds.

Beyond the construction cost savings of at least twenty percent, the report also states that there would be significant savings in time of construction required for Charity, as compared to a new facility.  Having this useful and structurally sound building shell already in place should save at least two years off the delivery date of a new building, which would require acquiring a large parcel of land, relocating people, and constructing a new building.

Richard Moe, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation said that the National Trust named Charity Hospital and the adjacent Mid-City neighborhood to its 2008 list of America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places because both the building and its surrounding neighborhood contribute to New Orleans' unique architectural landscape. "This report confirms what we've long believed: Charity Hospital is a viable candidate for rehabilitation and reuse. By rehabbing Charity and preserving the 25 blocks of historic houses around it, New Orleans can get two things it desperately needs: top-quality medical facilities and livable in-town neighborhoods."    

“Historic preservation and 21st Century healthcare are not mutually exclusive. This report demonstrates that New Orleans can be a leader in both,” according to Walter Gallas, director of the National Trust’s New Orleans Field Office.

Charity Hospital was closed by the LSU Health Sciences Center in September 2005 after Katrina. In 2006, the Louisiana Legislature asked for the independent assessment in House Resolution #89. RMJM Hillier was retained by FHL to complete the assessment.

According to FHL Executive Director Carolyn Bennett, “The Foundation for Historical Louisiana was named by the state Legislature to spearhead an independent study of Big Charity and our Board of Directors took this charge very seriously. RMJM Hillier's in-depth assessment now opens the way for fact based discussions on the quickest and most cost-efficient way to restore healthcare to New Orleans.   FHL urges our elected officials and health care leaders to carefully examine the assessment and use this Art Deco landmark of medical, cultural, and historic importance as the magnificent starting point of a first-class facility for the citizens of Louisiana."

The 1938 Art Deco Charity Hospital structure was originally designed by the firm of Weiss, Dreyfous, and Seiferth. This same group created the Louisiana State Capitol, the Old Governor’s Mansion, the LSU French House, the Eola Hotel of Natchez, and the Shushan Lakefront Airport in New Orleans.

RMJM Hillier has extensive experience in both modern healthcare facility design and assessment and rehabilitation of historical buildings. Recent modernization projects include the U. S. Supreme Court, the Virginia State Capitol, and the St. Louis Public Library. The firm also has a superb record in building state-of-the-art healthcare facilities, laboratories and academic research facilities including the University Medical Center at Princeton, Duke University’s Global Health Research Building, Louisiana Cancer Research Center and University of South Alabama Cancer Center.

The Foundation for Historical Louisiana’s mission is to preserve the architectural and cultural heritage of Louisiana. The organization dates back to 1963 and it is a local partner of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.  Foundation headquarters is located in the Old Governor’s Mansion in Baton Rouge (also a Weiss, Dreyfous, and Seiferth building), which it operates in a cooperative endeavor agreement with the State of Louisiana.

An executive summary of the assessment and the report can be viewed at and at

For More Information Call:
FHL Vice Chair
Sandra Stokes 225-445-3800
FHL Executive Director
Carolyn Bennett 225-931-7561;
Virgil McDill National Trust for Historic Preservation, 202-294-9187
Walter Gallas, National Trust New Orleans Field Office 504-400-3017
Neill Coleman, RMJM Hillier, 646-244-1814
Images available via
Neill Coleman at RMJM Hillier at ncoleman [at] rmjmhillier [dot] com.