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One Shell Square

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1972, Skidmore, Owings and Merrill. Poydras St. at St. Charles Ave.
  • (Photograph by Guy W. Carwile)

In 1972, at 51 stories and 697 feet, the Shell Oil Company’s office tower became the tallest building in Louisiana, a distinction it retains. Smoothly sheathed in off-white Italian travertine and bronze-tinted glass, the reinforced-concrete and steel tower is supported on an 8-foot-thick concrete mat over 500 octagonal concrete piles, 18 inches in diameter and driven 210 feet into the ground. The reflective glass windows with dual panes eliminate the need for fins to shade the interior. Midway up a ziggurat-style stepped podium at the corner of St. Charles Avenue and Poydras Street is an orderly row of live oak trees, stunted because of limited room for root growth, that provide minimal shade and depth of color to counter the dazzling travertine. The podium, its steps, and the surrounding sidewalk are all covered with the same travertine to coordinate with the building. Thus, the petroleum company’s presence is forcefully asserted on the block as well as on the city’s skyline. One Shell Square is similar but not identical to SOM’s One Shell Plaza in Houston (1968–1971). Although it employs the same materials and the facade is similarly expressed, Houston’s facade undulates and has a smaller podium.

Writing Credits

Karen Kingsley and Lake Douglas


What's Nearby


Karen Kingsley and Lake Douglas, "One Shell Square", [New Orleans, Louisiana], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—,

Print Source

buildings of new orleans book

Buildings of New Orleans, Karen Kingsley and Lake Douglas. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2018, 135-136.

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