February 10, 2010

Architecture in Times of Need: Make It Right Rebuilding New Orleans' Lower Ninth Ward

originally published in the last edition of Design Exchange Magazine

In the wake of the most recent tsunami to wreak havoc on a coastal region, focus is returned to the once hot topic of disaster relief. What is the best way to implement immediate assistance and perhaps more importantly how do we rebuild for the long term? If the horrors of Catrina have had any positive, its that it taught us what not to do and hopefully has better prepared us for similar events going forward.

There have been many stories about the rebuilding efforts there yet they seem like they are lost in the past. The media has turned its back, looking for the next big story. We are quickly forgetting the struggle people rebuilding those communities are still dealing with on a daily basis. However, a new book highlighting the work of a trendy architecture firm, a Hollywood star, and a devastated community, has brought the spotlight back to the area and shown one attempt to "Make It Right."

The Make It Right is an organization developed by Brad Pitt focused on the redevelopment of the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans. This district was completely devastated by Hurricane Katrina almost four years ago and has struggled to recover. Mr. Pitt assembled a team including architecture firms GRAFT, who he has collaborated with in the past, and William McDonough + Partners along with the Cherokee Gives Back Foundation. The aim was to develop a neighborhood of homes following the Cradle to Cradle philosophy while engaging the local community and providing high quality sustainable homes.

The initiative engaged a group of international designers, each to design and build affordable housing for the low income residents, while creating a new sustainable housing typology. Such international stars as David Adjaye, GRAFT, Frank Gehry, MVRDV, Morphosis and Shigeru Ban along with others have taken part in the project donating their time and design expertise. Many of the houses broke ground this past summer and 13 have already been completed, with families moving in. Each house meets LEED Platinum standards helping to reduce the energy costs for the inhabitants while being environmentally responsible. The goal is to rebuild 150 homes to jump start the redevelopment of this district and hopefully act as a catalyst for similar development projects.

Along with the housing design, GRAFT and Mr. Pitt collaborated on a Land Art project in order to generate interest through the international media. The "Pink Project" consisted of hundreds of large pink tents, each taking a simple geometric form and being dispersed through the landscape of the destroyed area. These objects recall the density and vibrancy of the residential neighborhood that was reduced to a scraggly field by the storm. This project along with the Make It Right Initiative and the corresponding design process was recently published as a book: Architecture in Times of Need: Make It Right Rebuilding New Orleans' Lower Ninth Ward.

Hopefully, this project, along with the increased media exposure it and the high profile participants bring, will once again bring our focus back to the challenges of coping with natural disasters. too often our feelings and aid fade over time and stop once the real work needs to be done. Rebuilding is a long and tedious process. We can't abandon those in need once the spotlight has moved on to the most recent gossip or political scandal.

Architecture in Times of Need: Make It Right - Rebuilding the New Orleans' Lower Ninth Ward


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