Designing the Future of New Orleans
Architectural Record and Tulane University host two ideas competitions.
Can houses and apartments rise gracefully above floodwaters while maintaining New Orleans’s famous neighborliness? Can higher ground successfully accommodate more of the city’s citizens in an environmentally sustainable way? Both students and professionals offered a wealth of answers in the 544 entries for two competitions initiated by Architectural Record in a partnership with Tulane University’s School of Architecture. The High Density on the High Ground Competition asked professionals to propose a 160-unit housing project on an actual development site, while student competitors in the New Orleans Prototype House Competition designed a three-bedroom house that could adapt to a variety of conditions. Tulane architecture dean Reed Kroloff presided over the judging, while Scott Bernhard and Carrie Bernhard wrote the programs and co-coordinated the competitions, aided by numerous student volunteers from Tulane. For two days, the nine-member jury winnowed entries in galleries provided by the New Orleans Museum of Art. Almost every scheme took seriously the request to eschew visionary ideas in favor of practical ways to address the city’s real housing crisis. The winners, a group of citations, and additional selection of projects proposed by the jury went on exhibition in New Orleans in April and May at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art. Some will travel to the AIA National Convention in Los Angeles this month and will be displayed in the fall in the U.S. Pavilion at the 10th International Architectural Exhibition, in Venice, Italy.
New Orleans may need to incorporate high-density housing if certain parts of the city prove unsafe to build back. A city-block-size site in Bywater, a mid-19th-century neighborhood downriver from the French Quarter, offered a suitably challenging site for this competition. It’s a bit elevated and hard against the Mississippi levee; north, across Chartres Street, a mix of shotgun houses and Creole cottages has only begun to see gentrification. The program included 160 units, which could vary widely in size from 700 to 2,100 square feet, as well as 15,000 square feet of retail and a 5,000-square-foot “city center” studio space for Tulane. Open to everyone, the competition drew entries from students and professional design firms. One team, among those cited in the following pages, were simply three friends who recently graduated from Harvard’s Graduate School of Design and decided to collaborate. Juror Mario Gooden said, “I was looking for moments that spoke to how people live next to each other, how they watch out for each other.” Click here to see the projects.
As New Orleans faces a future in which widespread abandonment is a real possibility, this competition, open only to current architecture students, sought designs for a three-bedroom house that responds to the city’s new circumstances: one that’s easy to install on an infill site, that rises above flood waters, and that respects the local climate and environment. Since historic house types in New Orleans have proved to be highly adaptable over time, juror Patty Gay observed, “It’s tough to compete with shotguns or Creole cottages” in the design of a new prototype. That said, the five Honor Award projects on these pages, submitted by students from Bozeman, Montana, to Cambridge, Massachusetts, did an admirable job. The jury felt five additional projects deserved a citation (below right). “Lots of entries were interesting in the way they were built,” commented Brian MacKay-Lyons. “This is surprising because students don’t necessarily know much about construction.”