Charlie Tatum and Tower Fantasy reflect on the history of New Orleans’ Plaza Tower and discuss how social media can be used to imagine new futures for public spaces.
Before leaving New York in 2014, a friend gave me a small, green paperback, the Wallpaper* City Guide for New Orleans. In a section of landmarks, the Plaza Tower stood out: “The interesting, if unfortunate, Plaza Tower was commissioned when it was assumed skyscraper growth would extend further west than it did…[The] third-tallest building in the state has been vacant since 2002, after tenants complained of toxic mould as asbestos. Several developers have tried to refurbish it, with varying degrees of failure….” This story of failure, one not unique for New Orleans, has a sad humor to it—a tower built to spur development that never followed and that eventually became host to a revolving door of tenants, owners, and developers. The building now stands alone and vacant, falling into disrepair, its sidewalks blocked off by a barbed-wire barrier.
In March, an Instagram account launched, imagining new uses for the Plaza Tower in a series of fantastical and hilarious scenarios: the Tower reimagined as a banana, the Tower going for a swim at the Country Club or taking the place of its counterpart in Pisa. In conjunction with an exclusive digital artist project for Pelican Bomb, I exchanged emails with Tower Fantasy, the anonymous creator of this social-media feed, and we discussed the ideas behind these creative visions.
Charlie Tatum: A few weeks ago, the @towerfantasy account popped up when I was scrolling through Instagram. When did Tower Fantasy start? And where did the idea come from?
Tower Fantasy: It’s been a slow genesis—a preoccupation for a year or so. Officially it came out of a post–Mardi Gras comedown, having used the Tower throughout Carnival season as an unofficial mascot and North Star of sorts when trying to get home or after getting separated from friends. The Instagram account was created for visual note-taking in response to a simple question: If you could do anything with Plaza Tower, what would it be? There’s never been a real end goal regarding what Tower Fantasy is or where it’s going; it’s just an archive of ideas of how we might see this big vertical void in a different way.
CT: I drive by the Plaza Tower every day on my way to work, but I don’t know much about it. Could you tell me a little bit about the history of the Tower? What about its story interests you?
TF: The Tower has always been somewhat misplaced—and it seems that all the major players had different fantasies for what it could be. The architect envisioned it surrounded by skyscrapers, an expression of the future of New Orleans; the original owner saw it as a paradigm for modern life and technology; and some developers saw it as a lucrative investment—yet in the end, the Tower has been none of those things.
Its haunting pervasiveness throughout the city makes it the best place to cast fantasies—you can see the Tower from nearly every neighborhood on the East Bank. You can see it on Freret coming from Uptown, staring down at you over Central City, anywhere from the I-10, from parts of Tremé and Bayou St John, and when you cross Broad Street or any of the bridges over the interstate in Mid-City. Notably, though, you can’t see it from the Quarter and CBD, the proverbial centers of power in New Orleans. It’s the face of the skyline for most folks that live and work here—why not have fun with it?
CT: Most of the images you’ve posted on Instagram depict the Plaza Tower in an assortment of surreal and funny circumstances—visual one-liners. What do you hope your followers get from the project?
TF: An unmitigated, unexamined infatuation with the Tower. So much of our surroundings are designed by other people, but really anyone can co-opt them and make them whatever the hell they want with just a little imagination. This project rejects formal architecture education, where EVERYTHING is over-analyzed, over-academicized, and elitist AF. This is just a daily meditation on a building that should be embraced with childlike wonder.
CT: So far, Tower Fantasy has taken place exclusively on social media. What inspired you to use Instagram as a platform for the project? Does Tower Fantasy have IRL aspirations?
TF: Social media is probably the easiest way to disseminate the fantasies quickly plus it brings the Tower near you, so to speak. The account gets to take on its own life with guest submissions and allows people to “connect” with the Tower, exchange fantasies, and share amongst online friends and communities.
The Instagram account is really just one dimension of what the project could be, and it would be great for it for be a bigger thing but it’s hard to say what that would look like. It’s been loose and open-ended so far, and no one is excluded from fantasizing outside the Instagram feed. If you’re bold enough to say you want to be part of it, then you probably can be.
CT: When I first reached out to you, you mentioned that you want to remain anonymous, a decision that differs from the way many people use social media, as a platform to make themselves more visible. What’s the reason for that?
TF: Remaining anonymous allows the project to be more approachable. If the goal is for others to participate and think openly about this strange object in our collective consciousness, then having an identity attached to it is antithetical to the idea that the tower exists in every person’s mind. Eventually we might reveal ourselves in some capacity, but only after we have established this project as collective, open, and public.
CT: What’s next for the Plaza Tower?
TF: You tell us.