14 to 1: Post-Katrina Architecture by the Numbers

Musicians’ village, a habitat for humanity project in new orleans
Musicians’ Village, a Habitat for Humanity project in New Orleans / © Tanya Lukasik

The postdiluvian landscape contains little cutting-edge design but rather an abundance of familiarity and replication. What does this reveal about New Orleans society?

Last year the world media converged noisily on New Orleans to mark the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. This year marked a quieter but still significant milestone: it’s been a decade since the actual start of the structural recovery, which began tentatively in early 2006. So this is an apt moment to assess the results. How have the citizens of New Orleans been choosing to rebuild their residences? What do the reconstituted cityscapes look like? What do the choices reveal about the various homeowners, builders, developers, architects, authorities involved — and most of all, about New Orleans society?

These fundamental questions have gone curiously unaddressed in the substantial and growing archive of post-Katrina literature. In general this literature, from scholarship to the trade press to ambitious long-form journalism, falls into three main categories: theoretical discourses on the philosophies that ought to (or ought not) inform the rebuilding, including sustainability, resilience, localism, historicism, modernism, equity, social justice, gentrification, neoliberalism, entrepreneurism, tactical urbanism, New Urbanism, and landscape urbanism; critical analyses of official plans and programs (such as the Bring New Orleans Back Commission and Louisiana Road Home), of the privatization of public housing and hospitals, flood control and insurance, coastal restoration, various recovery schemes, and urban planning in general; and journalistic stories of innovative initiatives and proactive citizen engagement, usually with an eye toward the above narratives.

The literature, in other words, has been theoretical, didactic, critical, and/or prescriptive in its framing — and for good reason: there was much to critique during and after Katrina, not to mention before, and much that begged for improvement. What’s harder to find are expository studies aimed at characterizing and explaining how things have actually been playing out, based on broad empirical evidence. To put a finer point on it, everyone seems to have an opinion of what post-Katrina architecture and urbanism ought to look like (consider the very name Make It Right, for Brad Pitt’s project of developing sustainable homes in the Lower Ninth Ward), but no one has conducted an architectural census and analyzed what, ten years later, it actually looks like. […]

Aline Chahine
Aline is an international licensed architect currently practicing in Canada, she is the reason you are reading this right now, Aline founded the platform back in 2008 shaping the very foundation of Architecture Lab, her exemplary content curation process that defines the online magazine today.
Aline Chahine
Aline Chahine
Aline is an international licensed architect currently practicing in Canada, she is the reason you are reading this right now, Aline founded the platform back in 2008 shaping the very foundation of Architecture Lab, her exemplary content curation process that defines the online magazine today. Highlights Aline founded Architecture Lab in 2008 Lead editor of dan | dailyarchnews since 2019 Founded and Creative Director of DesignRaid Licensed architect with creative sales and marketing experience Experience As full-fledged architect, Aline's background involved a great deal of research that lead to the creation of Architecture Lab as an online database of exemplary design. Her experience snowballed into founding two architecture platforms, Architecture Lab and DesignRaid. Education Aline received USEK’s Master of Architecture in 2004 and BA in English from the University of Toronto
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About Architecture Lab Architecture Lab is a MKR.S Media brand, a website devoted to extraordinary design and aesthetics aiming to promote exceptional aesthetic values and sustainable design in all it's shapes and sizes. Learn more about us and our editorial process and feel free to contact us if you would like to see something in particular on the website, our certified experts will get back to you with the most trustworthy advice as soon as possible. Read all articles by Aline | Follow her on LinkedIn

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