While in New Orleans last week on a design jury, I checked the progress of rebuilding in the Katrina-devastated Lower Ninth Ward. It’s several miles east of the French Quarter and Downtown, and just across the canal that connects Lake Pontchartrain with the Mississippi. You can immediately see some of the area’s
disadvantages: it’s low land level and general sense of being isolated: only connected to central New Orleans by two small bridges; and there’s a high
concrete flood wall between the neighborhood and the banks of the canal (map courtesy NOLA Beez). From the west you still see swaths of empty lots, but now near Route 39, along Deslonde and Tennessee Streets, a remarkable new neighborhood is emerging thanks to herculean community efforts spurred by Brad Pitt’s Make It Right Foundation, which has brought in big name architects like Frank Gehry and Japan’s Shigeru Ban and big names like President Bill Clinton and his Global Initiative — not to mention Brad himself. It is very exciting to see how much progress has been made. The Make It Right Foundation even offers a self guided tour. The houses are raised off the ground — some high enough for a carport, as shown in the example above by Concordia Architects. There are a few designs that look more sculptural than functional (though community input was the starting point for everything) but I was impressed with how successful most of the houses seemed to be: with livable covered porches for natural ventilation in New Orlean’s humid climate,
front stoops for hanging out, roof slopes designed for solar panels, among many other features — the house above is by Billes Partners. I was also impressed with the pattern book approach some houses exhibited — in other words I saw the same plan built in different ways: rotated or flipped depending on desired porch orientation, for example. This approach recalls how many American towns developed — with stock plans being adapted to different lots and site conditions. Some locals don’t yet appreciate what is happening here (I am thinking of the two taxi drivers I spoke too — not very scientific I realize!) and prefer the new row houses in the
Musicians Village in the Upper Ninth, a laudable project of the New Orleans Area Habitat for Humanity, which I also toured. These houses (shown above) update the old New Orleans shotgun house and they do look neighborly — the smaller lots put the houses closer together for a more immediate sense of community, though I thought some of the porches looked minimal. I can see how the more
architecturally ambitious Make It Right houses — as shown here in a long street view — are not for everyone. They are more experimental, for example, turning the top floor into one large outdoor living room, and to my eye that makes them especially compelling. Bravo to the Brads and Bills who are helping revive a community that builds on the past while looking to the future (all Lower Ninth Ward photos courtesy Make It Right.org).
For more on contemporary infill home plans visit Time To Build blog.