Houses of the future in New Orleans?


A photo by Wayne Troyer of a Make It Right home under construction, in 2008. Originally posted at Jimmy Stamp's Life Without Buildings blog

In The Atlantic, Wayne Curtis explains that the disastrous failure of all levels of government to plan and rebuild New Orleans is having some interesting unintended positive consequences.

Four years after Katrina, the rebuilding of New Orleans is not proceeding the way anyone envisioned, nor with the expected cast of characters. (If I may emphasize: Brad Pitt is the city’s most innovative and ambitious housing developer.) […]

In the absence of strong central leadership, the rebuilding has atomized into a series of independent neighborhood projects. And this has turned New Orleans—moist, hot, with a fecund substrate that seems to allow almost anything to propagate—into something of a petri dish for ideas about housing and urban life. An assortment of foundations, church groups, academics, corporate titans, Hollywood celebrities, young people with big ideas, and architects on a mission have been working independently to rebuild the city’s neighborhoods, all wholly unconcerned about the missing master plan. It’s at once exhilarating and frightening to behold. […]

We may be in one of those moments now, with notions of modern design, advances in green materials, and the technical imperatives of sustainability all converging toward a great leap in urban architecture. The architecture writer Andrew Blum has asked whether the Brad Pitt Houses could “become for the single-family green house what Seaside was for New Urbanism or Pacific Palisades was for California Modernism”—that is, a project that recasts the possible for the next generation of architects and developers. As seems fitting for such a moment, most of the construction projects under way in New Orleans are informed by seemingly conflicting strands of utopianism. But their designers are coming to some common, and edifying, conclusions.

This summer, I visited five of the new houses. I sat on their porches—New Orleans’s original green technology, offering shade in summer and shelter during deluges, connecting the home with the street—and I considered a city in flux.

But architecture blogger Jimmy Stamp, from the blog Life Without Buildings, has a somewhat more cautious perspective:

The design architects essentially relinquish control of their projects once the construction documents are handed over to Make it Right’s team of architects and builders. Ostensibly, this is to create a certain vague uniformity among the houses, keep costs down, and strengthen the vernacular elements, thereby creating aneighborhood from disparate global visions. The end result, however, is at best a diluted version of the design, and at worst, a poorly detailed, hastily constructed eyesore. […]

It’s a slow, at times painful, process, but it’s progress. And it was recently announced that duplex homes are on the way, designed by a mix of international and local architects that include Frank Gehry and a slightly less cynical design fromMVRDV. It’s hard to imagine a dense lower 9th ward. The homes, at times separated by blocks, have a folly-in-the-park feel. Only time will tell if this will be a functioning neighborhood, a worthy pilgrimage site for architects from around the world, or an alltogether different type of folly.

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