Contemporary Architecture Signifies Hope in NOLA

Five years after Hurricane Katrina I spent much of my weekend watching and listening to news reports and documentaries about the storm’s aftermath. One of the most interesting, from an architecture and urban planning perspective, is Studio360’s Podcast, “Five Years After Katrina.” After interviewing Robert Olshanksy and Laurie Johnson, urban planners and co-authors of Clear as Mud: Planning for the Rebuilding of New Orleans, host Kurt Anderson exclaimed that he was feeling more optimistic than he expected after hearing of all the positive developments happening citywide.

One of the stories that news outlets tended to feature throughout the weekend, perhaps because of its positive message, is the Make It Right foundation. On Studio360, Melba Legget talked about living in a new KieranTimeberlake-designed house — the “#4 Brad Pitt house” as she calls it. She spoke about her pleasure with the house’s design because the architects met with her and asked her what she wanted out of every space. On “Meet the Press,” Brad Pitt expressed pride in the fact that “all but one house” is giving energy back to the grid, rather than taking away from it. He also discussed how, with all houses being built to LEED Platinum standards, the Lower Ninth Ward is becoming “the greenest neighborhood in the country.”

What impresses me the most about the Make It Right houses is that they challenge convention yet they are being embraced by the local community, something I was skeptical about when the designs were first released. Aesthetically, they may reference more traditional homes, but most of them do not look like anything that previously existed in the neighborhood. Whether their success is due to the fact that designers are reaching out to future homeowners for their input, or because homeowners are choosing to live in homes that stand out (on “NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams” it was discussed that residents are choosing the brightest houses so they can direct emergency workers to their homes easier when the next disaster strikes), it is exciting to see communities embrace contemporary architecture.