Unlike Chicago and San Francisco, which
were brash young centers of economic expansion before the
Great Fire of 1871 and the earthquake of 1906, New Orleans
is, by American standards, an ancient city with a declining
economy. The population shrank by 150,000 from 1960 to 2000,
and 28 percent lived below the poverty level, more than twice
the national average. Most energy corporation headquarters
have moved away. Its location below sea level raises the possibility
that another catastrophic flood could hit the city. Yet the
suggestion among some that the city should be abandoned has
met with fierce opposition. Most who cherish the city for
its cultural legacy and its vital place in the nations
economy, especially due to its ports, want to concentrate
instead on effective rebuilding. Many questions remain unanswered,
not least being how reconstruction can help turn around the
citys economic fortunes, and how can important architecture
be saved. Heres what several designers have to say:
Hugh Hardy, FAIA, partner, H3;
member, New York New Visions, a coalition of design professionals
for rebuilding Lower Manhattan after 9/11: Rebuilding
New Orleans can prove that America has values instead of
just weapons. Weve let our social conscience atrophy.
Mayor Ray Nagin and others need to form a housing committee
to assess the situation. Residential buildings in the CBD
that can house a lot of people should be built first. I
think a lot of the neighborhood housing can be salvaged.
Theres so much of it, and the wood is 150 years old
in some cases; its not going to warp like modern framing.
Steve Dumez, AIA, Eskew+Dumez+Ripple;
past president AIA/Louisiana and AIA/New Orleans:
Given everything that New
Orleans means to so many people--the mythology, the culture,
the architecture, the spirit of the place--its shocking
to think of not rebuilding. Were casting about now,
trying to establish groups, looking at 9/11 and other models.
After Hugo hit Charleston in 1989, Mayor Joseph P. Riley
was able to establish a design task force. He was a leader
with a vision of what was possible; he established clear
Terrance Brown, FAIA, ASCG Incorporated,
Albuquerque, NM; co-chair, AIA Disaster Assistance program:
When whole neighborhoods
are flooded up to the eaves, everything in a house becomes
sopping wet, including insulation, wood, and foundations.
The ground, if it has clay in it, starts heaving. Theres
a massive amount that will have to be rebuilt. It may be
that many neighborhoods wont come back.
Haste will create a tendency
to build back below current building codes. Thats
a disaster waiting to happen.
There will have to be planning
to get easy access in and out of town. And roads will have
to be raised, as will buildings. There will be political
pressure to rebuild right, and I think therell be
money for planning. Nobodys going to want to go through
this agony again. Hurricanes are two, three times as frequent
as in the 70s.
Ernest Hutton, Assoc. AIA, Hutton
Associates, an urban design practice; co-chair, New York
New Visions: Some
of the post-911 reconstruction lessons are negative. The
Lower Manhattan Development Corporation has been buffeted
by every interest focused on those 16 acres. Imagine the
same thing happening in New Orleans with 197 square miles!
You need a broad-based planning process, with neighborhood
input, even while infrastructure is being rebuilt. Transit-oriented
development could mitigate some of the problems we saw in
Skipper Post, FAIA, Post Architects,
New Orleans, AIA past president:
I think it will
be a smaller city. Its a very important port city,
and that is something that should be preserved. My concern
is that New Orleans doesnt become a Disney World.
I hope we dont try to replicate what was there with
new technology and products.
Rebuilding is going to
take a huge workforce and I worry about where the workers
can live. So little livable housing remains. The west side
of the Mississippi is all marshes and bayous and lakes;
there are so few buildable areas.
Margaret Helfand, FAIA, Margaret
Helfand Architects; AIA/NY chapter president; founder, New
York New Visions: Im
halfway between skeptical and cynical. In New Orleans theres
no city left, no public to get involved in the rebuilding,
and at the end of the day, its all about process.
What we learned from Lower Manhattan is follow the money.
Politics trumps good intentions. With the number of property
owners and insurance issues in New Orleans, there will be
an infinite number of hoops to jump through if you hope
to improve on what was there before.
Lance Brown, FAIA, Lance Jay
Brown Architecture + Urban Design, co-chair Disaster Preparedness
Task Force, AIA/NY: We
should take a regional approach, preconditioning what we
do with New Orleans on what we do with Baton Rouge and Morgan
City. The physical, social, and economic conditions have
to be looked at as a system. You cant bring back a
single district, like the French Quarter, without homes
and communities for workers. There will need to be a system
of housing subsidies to make homeownership affordable. After
disasters modest opportunities typically are seized upon
but visionary schemes are ignored.
Robert Yaro, president, Regional
Plan Association; convened Civic Alliance to Rebuild New
York after 9/11: The
first year after 9/11 we had a democratic process and decisions
came quickly. Public input did not slow the process. We
pushed for a thoughtful planning process, and we didnt
get it. The New York Times and others kept pounding away
to get things done fast. In a place as polarized as New
Orleans it will be important to open the design process.
The tragedy is that unless you change the fundamentals,
youre going to end up with something worse than before.
Todays temporary housing will be the substandard housing
Allen Eskew, FAIA, Eskew+Dumez+Ripple,
New Orleans: We want
to fight for quality decision-making, based on best practices
and a planning ethic stressing social justice. As with New
Yorkers after 9/11, my partners and I are committed to focusing
on New Orleans. But this is different from 9/11; this is
the loss of our community, our culture, our music. It would
be a continuation of tragedy if Katrina ends in decanting
poor people out of New Orleans and disconnecting them from
Theres already a surge
to rebuild by the heavy engineering companies. Were
afraid that by the time people catch their breath and look
up we might have already lost the golden moment to put triage
in place and make the right moves.
David Waggonner, AIA, Waggonner
& Ball Architects, New Orleans: When
I read Daniel Libeskind saying that New Orleans can be rebuilt
more beautiful than it was, thats b.s. We have a beautiful
street pattern and a continuous, eclectic, and unique architectural
tradition. People come here because theres character,
and theres little of that left anywhere else. First
there has to be analysis; how can you know what to do when
you dont know where you are?
Trey Trahan, AIA, Trahan Architects,
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
There are so many questions.
What should our role be in restoring historic properties
in the Gulf? Do we need to revisit our codes, rethinking
them for historic buildings? And maybe we need to rethink
facilities like hospitals, so that if people cant
escape theyre safe above flood levels. We can put
cars, for example, on lower floors. How do we not end up
with houses resembling bunkers that are able to withstand
a category 5 hurricane but lacking in so many important
ways? On a more cosmic scale, what happens when the architectural
soul of the South is affected, and to some extent destroyed?
Errol Barron, FAIA, Errol Barron/Michael
Toups Architects, New Orleans, Favrot Professor of Architecture,
Tulane University: The
modest, inexpensive buildings (especially of the outer non
- tourist neighborhoods) are curiously resistant to the
effects of nature. They are raised, they breathe because
of their loose assembly of planks and boards, they are protected
from the sun by attics (that saved many from drowning),
and they are amazingly flexible, bending and warping to
the forces of wind and gravity. Once drained, they will
dry out quickly and can be cleaned up, set back on their
piers and reinhabited.
Like many, I fear the insurance
company penchant for demolition. Perhaps write offs will
save paper work and clerical labor but what is at stake
is an urban model that is unique to our country that should
not be lost for two reasons. 1. These narrow fragile buildings
are tougher than they look and are the residential fabric
of a city, which is alone in our country in the type of
city life it contains and nurtures. Lets rebuild,
anew, if necessary, but for the most part by simply drying
out and moving in. New Orleans is vulnerable but durable
and as resilient as its dilapidated looking
wood houses. We should not worry about the clean up, patina
is a given in this humid climate.
Belinda Stewart, AIA, Eupora,
Mississippi, Belinda Stewart Architects:
I think its hard for
people to understand the staggering extent of the damage.
My office is five hours from New Orleans, and we have damage.
Even people who werent displaced have a lot of work
I worry that the architectural
character of the area will change, that people coming in
wont care about community and what our architecture
says about our region and our cultural identity. I worry
about becoming a cookie cutter region. Whoever takes charge
will need to determine needs and whats important before
proceeding. The problems with the relief effort so far make
me worry how people can be given back a home with identity.
Theres a big population
shift occurring. In our town of 2,500, we already have people
coming in wanting to buy, and in Oxford, I hear, there are
many more ready to buy at any price. Its interesting
to see how the south will change. Anytime you have populations
moving, theres opportunity. Were talking about
our towns most historic, not-yet-restored neighborhood
becoming a place for people to relocate. The disaster might
be an opportunity to turn around some languishing small
towns that step up to the plate and fill a need.