September 13, 2005
Weeks after Hurricane Katrina, the biggest
issue for architects in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast region
is still communication.
The feeling of being totally cut
off from people has been the worst part, says Jerry
Billis, AIA, of Billis Architecture, a New Orleans firm of
nine. That is beginning to abate, but poor communications
are just a big challenge. Billis, like most New Orleans
architects, has leased office space in Baton Rouge. He first
borrowed office space and services from Baton Rouge-based
Trahan Architects. He anticipates staying for six months or
a year, but is looking forward to the rebuilding effort in
the city he has called home for 30 years.
Steve Dumez, AIA, of New Orleans-based
Eskew Dumez Ripple, has also leaned on Trahans office,
and bemoans severe issues getting in touch. It took
us 10 days to find everyone, he says. The firms
partners worked quickly to set up in Baton Rouge, purchasing
homes for themselves and staff and leasing office space. Their
New Orleans office sustained little damage but many in the
firm lost their homes and it will be some time before city
utilities are functional. Many details remain uncertain, including
which staff will stay on. Dumez estimates a 50 percent loss
in terms of ongoing work, but realizes that not all firms
have clients beyond the city. Every tally of damage is coupled
by the we-were-luckier-than-some rejoinder, which
is clearly on everyones mind.
Victor Trey Trahan, AIA,
principal at Trahan Architects, says that Baton Rouge firms
are doing what they can for their New Orleans colleagues.
The smallest thinguse of a computer, introduction
to a bankermeans everything to them right now,
he says. As architects, we are very competitive with
each other, and now that just does not matter in the same
Lynn Robertson, executive director of
AIA Louisiana, says that a third of the state AIA membership
is held by New Orleans-based architects, who number some 350
in 87 small- and medium-size firms. The larger firms
have relocated, many to Baton Rouge, and others to other Southern
Louisiana communities. Many others still have not called us;
many people are still in emergency mode.
Angela OByrne, AIA, is president
of the AIA New Orleans Chapter and of Perez Associates, which
is setting up shop in Baton Rouge. Our projects are
under water, and our clients are scattered, she says.
We are worried about payroll, but we were lucky to get
our server out.
Ron Blitch, FAIA, has been working from
Post Architects Baton Rouge office. His 26-person firm,
Blitch/Knevel Architects, was located in New Orleans
downtown warehouse district and sustained only minor damage.
They are setting up temporary offices in Abita Springs, Louisiana,
for at least 15 people. He has been frustrated by lack of
access to bank accounts, mail, and other basic communications
(cell towers are up but require generators to run), but counts
himself lucky that they saved servers and have clients outside
of New Orleans. Blitch is looking forward to rebuilding and
envisions an important role for local firms. He hopes that
young talent now scattered will come back.
The office of eight at Ford/Dickinson
are squeezing closer together to accommodate the firm of Wayne
Troyer, AIA, which is a similar size. As Baton Rouge
has doubled in size practically overnight, so too has our
office, said Jack Ford, AIA. But Troyer wants to get
back to New Orleans as quickly as possible. We have
clients who are pushing forward with local projects and we
are responding. Beyond that, we are all trying to think about
what positive, socially conscious revitalization can come
from this. Troyer, like others, worries for those less
lucky than he, including the many, many craftspeople
from hard-hit St. Bernard Parish.
Troyer, Dumez, and other New Orleans-area
architects are frustrated by the television depiction of the
city as destroyed. Many neighborhoods, they say, including
the Central Business District and nearby parishes, are in
good shape, and lack only utilities. Dumez points to the recovery
as an opportunity, too. We have to think about the big
questions. How do we manage issues related to the urban core?
Underpinning that is a conversation about the marginalized
classes that live in cities. That has come to the fore in