• Credit: Courtesy Make It Right Foundation

When he agreed to contribute a home design and his firm’s general expertise on rebuilding neighborhoods for the Make It Right Foundation’s efforts to restore the devastated Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans, Bob Berkebile of BNIM Architects disagreed with the location.

“I didn’t see the logic of rebuilding in an area that was still 6 feet below sea level,” he says of the northwest corner of the Lower Ninth in which hundreds of homes were swept away when the Industrial Canal levee failed to hold back the storm surge from Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Other circumstances overrode Berkebile’s pleas to focus the effort on the higher ground of the L9’s Holy Cross section, but his words led to a design directive requiring Make It Right homes to be built as high as 8 feet above the highest point of the street directly in front of each lot.

While Berkebile thought that some of the original house designs for the L9 would suffer in terms of aesthetics and convenience, he didn’t anticipate how much that functional design element would play in reviving the neighborhood.

Once a critical mass of homes were built and residents returned, he says, “We saw residents using the shaded space under their houses to gather and communicate with one another,” a dynamic aided by the higher density of the land plan that put houses close together. “It has created a strong sense of community there.”

While unintended, it’s a design concept that Berkebile feels is missing from and can be replicated in new-home development to spur similar benefits. “Designing homes and communities with more public realm assets can really add to its vitality and life,” he says, whether it be the open-air carports of Make It Right or other areas along a streetscape that are shaded, visible, beautiful, and out the flow of vehicle traffic. “We need to address community issues by design if we want to achieve true resiliency.”

To Learn More

The Make It Right Foundation is seeking donations to continue delivering affordable high-performance homes in the Lower Ninth Ward and elsewhere. For more information, go to www.makeitrightnola.org.