Notes from New Orleans: "Make It Right" Houses Rise in the Lower 9th

Posted on: October 16th, 2008 by Walter Gallas 7 Comments
US and international designers developed 13 different models for the Make it Right program.

US and international designers developed 13 different models for the Make it Right program.

Last Saturday I walked around the Lower 9th Ward marveling at the six "Make It Right" houses nearing completion on the formerly barren blocks of Tennessee and Deslonde Streets near the site of the devastating Industrial Canal floodwall failure in August 2005. The houses are bright, fresh, and optimistic, chosen by the owners from thirteen designs offered by U.S. and international architectural firms through a program conceived by actor Brad Pitt. Eventually 150 owners of the land in this area will have houses built through this program, which offers financing and support to ensure that even in today's unsettled market, the houses will remain in the family to be passed along as family homes had been before Katrina.

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7 Responses

  1. M L Waller

    October 17, 2008

    You should be embarrassed to publish this rubbish as architecture.
    Preservation of what ? Modernist follies. No talent yankee architects
    ignoring the culture of a southern colonial city with the richest
    mix of cultures in America. Gimme a break or better yet a bucket !

  2. Gregory Richard

    October 17, 2008

    New Orleans has one of the richest architectural heritages in the US and possibly in the world. How can you call yourself architects while turning your backs on that heritage? Stop trying to be different for the sake of being different. Invent within the rules! Design within the context and realm these people live in. The people you are designing for want a home that feels like home, not some experiment your CAD program allows you to execute. Stop experimenting on the poor. Give them a place they can relate to and call home for generations.

    Gregory M. Richard

  3. Kathie Friedley

    October 18, 2008

    I came upon the Make It Right website yesterday and viewed all 13 designs from these “prominent” U.S. and international architectural firms. I am still stunned. I extoll anyone who reads this blog post to go to the website at http://www.makeitrightnola.org to see the full extent of Pitt’s well-meaning but misguided approach, which touts as a goal: “Because local cultural influences gave rise to the pre-Katrina architecture so emblematic of the area, preserving that identity remains vital in reclaiming the spirit of the neighborhood.”

    Perhaps the houses shown above were chosen by the owners, but the “choices” they were given were clueless at best, arrogant at the worst. None look like the houses they lost during Katrina. I cannot believe the people of the Lower 9th would choose these designs over the vernacular styles — the shotguns, camelbacks, and creole cottages — that for 100 years meant home to this culturally-rich, close-knit, vibrant community that is now in tatters.

  4. Jo-Anne Peck

    October 19, 2008

    New Orleans has a unique and well documented architectural vocabulary. These housing examples ignore the established vocabulary and the results diminish the historic character that makes New Orleans a distinct place. It pains me to see these examples praised.

  5. Nate

    October 20, 2008

    I went to architecture school in New Orleans and lived down there for five years. I have been familiar with this project since its inception and recently relooked at all of the designs. While I understand peoples shock at the modern designs, i think it is disingenous to say that they ignore the established vocabulary. Many of the designs look like modified shotguns houses. Looking at the designs I see front porches, wood siding, hipped roofs, even wrought iron. I personally do not like all of the designs, but I do think that a closer look at these houses shows that they really are sympathetic to the history and traditions of New Orleans.

  6. Walter Gallas

    October 21, 2008

    I am thrilled that this has riled up a discussion about what’s appropriate architecture–in New Orleans or anywhere else. Thank you all for your comments so far. Here’s my take on all of this–
    New Orleans is not all that unique among American cities in choosing prevailing contemporary styles when developing entire new areas of housing in its neighborhoods over the years. Take a look at the elaborate California bungalows which fill the early 20th century Gentilly Terrace (now National Register) neighborhood. Or the raised Spanish Revival gems of Broadmoor. Or the modernist glass-walled houses of Lake Visita. New Orleans is not all shotguns and creole cottages. In the case of this section of the Lower 9th Ward, the waters rushing through the neighborhood as a result of the failure of the Industrial Canal floodwall wiped out all but one or two of hundreds of houses. In the Holy Cross section where the majority of houses survived–although flooded–I would agree that new archtecture has a greater responsibility to be sensitive to the context of the neighborhood. (See the blog about the Lowe’s Katrina Cottage, for example, that was just posted.) In the section of the Lower 9th where Make It Right is focussed, the area is essentially a new development that will, I believe, attain its own identity based on these exuberant designs.

  7. Nicholas Roseland

    January 23, 2009

    Brad Pitt, members of the Make It Right Foundation, and those associated with the projects should be commended for all they’re doing in rebuilding New Orleans. As an architect who grew up in and around New Orleans (1964 to 1986, LSU graduate 1984), I do have two issues with several of the designs offered in the “Make It Right” project:

    1.) New Orleans boasts a variety of architectural types and styles, many as unique as the city itself. I feel many of the designs offered, missed the mark, not reflecting the character of the city’s architecture. Rather than intermingling with the neighborhoods, many of these homes scream “look at me”. We can still design sustainable and affordable homes without losing sight of an area’s architectural heritage.

    2.) More importantly, and what I feel is the primary issue, is how to avoid having homes flood the next time a levee fails*. New houses built within the New Orleans area levee systems should be required to have the floor system, for the lowest habitable floor, built above the potential flood waters resulting from a levee breach.

    * The saturated levees failed as a result of a category three hurricane. It’s inevitable that stronger hurricanes will cross the path of New Orleans and test the weakest links of the levee systems. Katrina should serve as a wakeup call. To think that it could not happen again is denial. The citizens of New Orleans should not rely solely on the levee systems for the protection of their homes. This should be evident when the mindset of many officials is “Acceptable risks must be weighed” when determining the level of levee protection needed versus funds to be spent on upgrading the levee systems.

    During my last visit to tour the devastation in New Orleans, I saw new homes being built that were elevated around 4 to 6 feet above grade. The irony was they were being built next door to abandoned houses with flood water stains at 8 to 10 feet above grade. I saw many homes with floodwater stains almost at the eaves. In most cases, 5 feet above grade is not enough. You can’t continue to build the same way and expect different results.

    I did find a good solution during this visit. It was a newly constructed house, elevated on pilings with the lowest habitable floor system located above the flood water elevation. The ground floor was open to the sides and rear. The ground floor front elevation had a well detailed false façade, constructed of flood resistant materials that provided privacy and an attractive curb appeal. This design provided a good solution to the potential floodwaters and blended in well with the neighborhood.

    I support the effort to design with the environment in mind, but in New Orleans floodwaters should be the primary environmental concern. I know this is an expensive proposition, but you can pay now or you can pay later. The problem with later is, it will cost a lot more than just money. More importantly, it will cost lives.

    Nicholas Roseland, AIA
    Architect Roseland, P.L.
    Vero Beach, FL