HURRICANES KATRINA AND RITA claimed 1,464 lives and destroyed more than 200,000 homes and 18,000 businesses when they hit southern Louisiana in summer 2005. To lead Louisiana’s extensive rebuilding effort, the Louisiana Recovery Authority, Baton Rouge, was formed in October 2005 by Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco. LRA is making strides toward revitalization, particularly in New Orleans, which was devastated by Hurricane Katrina. In fact, the work LRA is doing has attracted many displaced locals back to the city. A study released in October 2007 by New Orleans-based GCR & Associates Inc., an urban-planning consulting firm, reported New Orleans’ population at 288,057, which is about 63 percent of the population before Katrina. Not only is LRA’s work luring residents back to New Orleans, but several nonprofit organizations are doing their part to rebuild the Crescent City in a more sustainable manner. These organizations are reminding the nation that rebuilding New Orleans is important but it’s even more important to build responsibly.
GREEN BUILDING / As of August 2007, 42,814 Louisiana families still were living in FEMA trailers; that number is down from 76,757 in July 2006. Mid-2007 reports stated that many of these people were experiencing coughing, burning eyes and sinus infections. A link was made to the trailers’ particleboard, which contains formaldehyde concentrations above Washington, D.C.-based U.S. Environmental Protection Agency- recommended levels, and the inferior ventilation that turns the trailers into large-scale Petri dishes.
Fortunately, good IAQ is an important aspect of many of the programs that are rebuilding homes for displaced families. Among the most recognized programs are Santa Monica, Calif.-based Global Green USA’s Holy Cross Project and the new Make It Right program; spokesman Brad Pitt has generated a lot of interest in both programs.
Pitt’s star power helped attract 125 submissions for Global Green USA’s design competition for five environmentally friendly single-family homes, an 18-unit apartment building and a community center/sustainable design and climate action center for the Holy Cross neighborhood of the lower Ninth Ward. The winning designers, Matthew Berman and Andrew Kotchen of Workshop/APD, New York, are partnering with Global Green USA and the Atlanta-based Home Depot Foundation, the lead funding organization, to turn the development into reality. One of the single-family homes is completed and now is a prototype to help identify the most critical issues for housing in New Orleans.
“What we’re finding is at the moment there is a premium to build anything in New Orleans,” says Bob Berkebile, founding principal of BNIM Architects, Kansas City, Mo., and senior design advisor for the Holy Cross Project. “The prototype gives us a chance to refine the designs and ensure we are doing everything we can to drive the cost down without compromising the quality of our work.”
BNIM Architects also was selected as one of 12 architecture firms—four international, four national and four local—to develop individual prototype homes for residents of the lower Ninth Ward as part of Pitt’s Make It Right program, which launched last December. The program intends to build 150 eco-friendly homes by summer. Reminiscent of New Orleans’ shotgun houses that traditionally are 1 story and contain no hallways, the homes will take advantage of renewable-energy strategies, such as solar and wind power.
Community members can use insurance, FEMA money and other funds to finance the prototype of their choice. Pitt has pledged $5 million to the construction of the homes and is looking for donations. A Web site, www.makeitrightnola.org, explains more about the program and accepts service, building product and cash donations.
“As those structures were being assembled and pink fabric was being stretched over them, you can’t imagine the enthusiasm that was felt in the lower Ninth Ward,” Berkebile remembers. “Here we are more than two years after the storm and there are 25 to 50 restorations and five or six new-construction projects occurring, but in a community that had 17,000 people before the storm this is relatively minor. Make It Right is making a commitment to help these residents create a life again in their neighborhood.“
FIRST COMPLETED LEED PROJECT / Students from New Orleans-based Tulane University’s School of Architecture designed the first completed building seeking Washington-based U.S. Green Building Council LEED Silver certification in New Orleans. The 4,400-square-foot (409-m2) New Orleans Family Center, built in the Central City District, houses displaced single men and women with children, as well as families who lost their homes after Katrina.
Privately funded by Newport Beach, Calif. based HomeAid, a nonprofit provider of housing for the homeless, the facility features flooring made from bamboo, cork, or recycled rubber and plastic; fiber and cement composite siding that protects the building against water and insects; a geothermal heating-and-cooling system; and native landscaping.
"As a national developer of housing for homeless families and individuals, HomeAid was in a unique position to respond to the housing crisis executive officer. "It is an honor to be part of such a significant and historical project in the great city of New Orleans."
THE BIG PICTURE / Despite all that already has been done in New Orleans, there are many who say the city never should be built back to the way it was before. Instead, efforts should be focused on restoring the area’s protective wetlands—for each mile (1.6 km) of wetlands, New Orleans would be protected from 1 foot (0.3 m) of storm surge.
“Even if we build perfect, climate-positive, healthy, durable buildings with passive survivability standards met, unless larger systems get restored, I think, in about 25 years New Orleans will be part of a peninsula. In 35 years it will be an island, and in 50 years it will be part of the Gulf,” Berkebile relates. “If we claim this as our moment to re-establish our humanity in America and begin transforming all our communities to this climate-positive standard and we regenerate this area with social, economic and environmental vitality then we reverse the pattern, arguably, and the seas don’t rise and the storms don’t continue to increase. I hold onto that vision but I recognize that I’m not exactly in control.”
NEW ORLEANS FAMILY CENTER
ARCHITECT OF RECORD / Perez APC, New Orleans, (504) 584-5100 ARCHITECTS / Tulane University’s School of Architecture, New Orleans, architecture.tulane.edu, and Favrot and Shane Architects, Metairie, La., (504) 885-4885 GENERAL CONTRACTOR / JaRoy Construction Inc., New Orleans, (504) 465-3302 EXTERIOR SIDING / HardiePlank from James Hardie, Mission Viejo, Calif., www.jameshardie.com WINDOWS / Pella Corp., Pella, Iowa, www.pella.com RECYCLED RUBBER FLOORING / ECOsurfaces Commercial Flooring, Lancaster, Pa., www.ecosurfaces.com WALL PANELS / 3form, Salt Lake City, www.3-form.com PAPERLESS DRYWALL / DensArmor Plus from Georgia-Pacific, Atlanta, www.gp.com ENERGY STAR-CERTIFIED KITCHEN APPLIANCES / GE Consumer & Industrial, Fairfield, Conn., www.geconsumerandindustrial.com