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Shifted Realities: A (new) New Orleans Typology


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Hey guys,

So for the last 3+ weeks, I've been doing the not so fun (well actually it is) part of my trip to Europe, the studio component. As a group we came up with a master plan for a block of Freret St here in New Orleans, one that was very decimated by the white flight that happened in the 1950's and 60's. All the others in the group chose a mixed use program to develop, while I decided to do strictly housing, not only to be different but to set an agenda : Create a (new) New Orleans typology. New is in parentheses because I explore the dualistic condition of both familiar and unique and how those lines become shifted. New Orleans also is a very either/or city. For instance with the FEMA flood maps, there are now base elevations that any new structure has to build its first occupied level up to (for residential). As many people who live in the South know, the front porch is very key to social interaction, especially here. So why can't I both have a front porch and meet FEMA codes? This project really became an exploration of the New Orleans vernacular and ways to appropriate and modify conditions to create a new typology that satisfies social, economic, physical, and federal requirements.

Since I have more CAD work to do, I'll stop there and let drawings and renderings do the talking. I would say they are at 80% with a deadline of Wednesday evening (need time to build the model for the review on Friday). I based the layout on the section of the building, but as this is the very first stab at it I would like to get opinions and critiques on it.

Thanks in advance guys!


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I have to be honest... when I first saw the pictures, the first thing I thought was 'What will this place be like 5-10 years after it is built?' And unless New Orleans is free of hobos and teenagers, I imagine people hanging out under an apartment building, or sleeping under it at night. At first, it'll be a case of 'hey, nice futuristic building!', but after that wears off, the underside of the building is going to be graffiti'd to hell, people are going to be scared to walk by the building at night, worried about who or what is underneath.

Your actual drawings and stuff are good, but the idea in general seems like one of those things that's designed for the sake of designing something cool-looking but non-functional. I know it's to deal with the unique conditions New Orleans presents a designer with, but realistically, it might make more sense to just give up on the low-lying parts of the city and turn the into parks or something, because odds are there is going to be another Katrina within the next 10-20 years, and then another one after that.

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Aci, while I appreciate your critique, I have some issues with it.

1) Part of the reasoning for raising the building is to create a front porch condition, giving part of the space beneath to the community center next door. I want people to hang out underneath the building. It is meant to be that way socially.

2) This part of the city is far away from the CBD and missions. Homeless don't come to this part.

3) If you take the time to build something nice that the community can take pride in, it doesn't become defaced. Check out Michael Maltzan's all white (exterior) school in the middle of skid row in Los Angeles. It has been up 10 years now, not once has it been graffitied.

4) Never tell anyone from this city or that lives in this city to give up on it. You will get a much much angrier response then I am giving. That argument is crap. LA is on a fault line, do we give up and move? San Francisco is on a fault line, do we move? Hell does the entire country of Japan move to Tibet because it gets a ton of earthquakes? No, it is a part of the local condition.

5) I never design anything to be just cool looking. I thought of how it was going to be 5-10 years after it was built. I know how it will function. Your first paragraph is an ok honest crit, but your second one reeks of a suburban mindset, and crossed the line a bit. There is a history here of raising housing/apartment buildings and putting parking underneath. My agenda is to create a new typology by appropriation and modification.

While I may have sounded harsh, I do appreciate your critique.

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1) I do understand the reasoning for raising the building, though I wasn't aware you planned to have a community centre next door. I suppose that makes sense, then, to have it as an intended gathering place.

2) Admittedly, I am only familiar with the general layout of New Orleans, and not specific neighbourhoods. I'll take your word for it that transients won't be an issue.

3) I know it will be nice, but not every apartment building manager or homeowner gives a crap. For a school, you can be sure that they'll want to keep their things up to snuff, but all it takes is one guy to let his place go, and the vandals could move in. Not a sure thing, and certainly not immediate, but I'd say the potential for tagging is there regardless.

4) Not the whole city, the parts that are so low-lying you can't actually build on the ground itself. There were parts of the city that didn't flood when the levees failed, right? Why not invest there, where there is a much lower chance of something catastrophic wiping out all your hard work? And I don't think the West Coast is a fair comparison, because they've managed over time to build structures capable of withstanding very strong earthquakes. It's a little harder to withstand a flood, because there are a million and one variables... like what would happen if NOLA flooded, and a car got pushed by the water into one or more of your support columns? I'm not insulting the city, I'm just questioning whether re-building the lower-lying areas is actually the best idea available.

5) My response to this is tied in with #4, and I hope you understand I'm not trying to be a jerk, just making sure everything is well thought-out. I'm sure you've done considerably more research into your own city than I have into it.

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Thanks for not taking my response the wrong way ACI. I'm sure part of it had to do with sleep deprevation.

1) The community center is an existing structure located next door. The only problem is it isn't really a center since it is in a historic shotgun, and therefore extremely tiny. That is the idea behind giving them some of the ground floor area by raising it up.

2) The good thing about our public transit sucking so much is less movement by the unfortunate. They stay around the French Quarter, CBD, and the Central City area.

3) Good points all around on this one, but the small nature of the project should help, as well as the fact that these aren't bargain basement housing. I should have explained more about the neighborhood. It is currently on the rebound again, specifically the Freret corridor. This is one of those theoretical projects (the master plan) designed to help kick start an already moving movement.

4) This site, if it flooded only had about 3 feet of water. The really low lying areas of the city are near the lake, and in the 9th ward. And to be simple and frank, the reason to rebuild is that it is home. The idea was put on the table after Katrina to reduce the footprint of the city, and well there were a lot of really pissed off people. As far as your example they are steel filled concrete columns with redundancy built in. I have an engineering background, and something like this is actually favorable as water can move through rather than push over. It would probably have to be an old 60's all steel body Buick to take those down.

5) I didn't think you were a jerk at all. Its sleep deprevation and the natural response of any New Orleanian to "Why rebuild"

Look for some updates in the morning. Long night ahead.

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Update: This one should help explain the project a lot more. It is almost there just need to do another diagram or two.

The grass was a sleep deprived mistake. It has been fixed.


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