The Piazza d’Italia is an urban public plaza in downtown New Orleans, Louisiana controlled by the Piazza d’Italia Development Corporation, a subdivision of New Orleans city government. Completed in 1978 according to a design by noted post-modernist Charles Moore and Perez Architects of New Orleans, the Piazza d’Italia debuted to widespread acclaim on the part of artists and architects. Deemed an architectural masterpiece even prior to its completion, the Piazza in fact began to rapidly deteriorate as the development surrounding it was never realized. By the turn of the new millennium, the Piazza d’Italia was largely unfrequented by and unknown to New Orleanians, and was sometimes referred to as the first “postmodern ruin”.
The Piazza d’Italia struggled as an urban space almost from the moment of its completion in 1978. Neither public nor private funding was secured to pay for the further redevelopment of the block – the Lykes Center having preceded the Piazza’s construction by several years – leaving the Piazza mostly invisible from the street and wedged between blight and the blank modernist facade of Lykes Steamship’s headquarters. Without commercial tenants to subsidize maintenance, and with dwindling city budgets increasingly constrained – first by the incremental phase out of federal government revenue sharing, then due to the regional Oil Bust of the mid- to late-1980s – the plaza rapidly deteriorated, with the fountain rarely in operation and the fanciful neon and incandescent lighting accents going unreplaced and unrepaired. In 1987, the vacant historic row along Tchoupitoulas Street was heavily damaged by a fire and was demolished, resulting in the installation of a large surface parking lot adjacent to the Piazza. By 2000, the Piazza d’Italia was routinely cited as a “postmodern ruin”, ironically echoing its far older classical antecedents.
The owners of the Loews Hotel currently lease the surface parking lot next to the Piazza and intend to one day realize the Piazza d’Italia’s design vision of an urban “surprise plaza”, perhaps by constructing another hotel. Nothing is imminent, however – given the state of the national economy (2009) – and though the fountain has been restored, the Piazza’s design remains only partially fulfilled.