PLAN 64: Article
Rebuilding New Orleans

Research and Action After Katrina

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, faculty and students from the School of Architecture + Planning have initiated a number of efforts to help resolve the problems there and to mitigate similar destruction from future disasters.

At the request of Oxfam America, architecture researcher Reinhard Goethert worked with a Louisiana NGO, TRAC, and a team of seven students to develop a design for a simple house that can be lifted 8-10 feet, as needed, to offer protection against recurring flooding from hurricanes. In addition to helping with current rebuilding, the project aims to develop a booklet on building on the bayou that Oxfam will make available throughout the coastal areas.

Meanwhile, in conjunction with The Urban Conservancy, an NGO that is trying to help rebuild New Orleans with local labor, architecture professor Jan Wampler conducted a studio on Housing in New Orleans challenging students to design a demonstration project for a site near the French Quarter, with special emphasis on designing around three-dimensional courtyards, both for community use and for natural ventilation.

Also this spring, planning professors Phil Thompson, Ceasar McDowell and JoAnn Carmin led a practicum focused on housing redevelopment in the Tremé neighborhood, exploring the interlinked challenges of community development, economic development, affordable housing and environmental justice. And planning lecturer Karl Seidman taught his economic development finance class – which includes formulating development strategies for real clients – in parallel with a faculty member at the University of New Orleans.

Meanwhile, more than 30 planning students were involved in New Orleans this spring, working on various projects including:

  • a five-month project focused on ecological enhancement in the urban rebuilding process, aimed at enhancing tourism and other economic factors while providing sustainable environmental protection
  • a six-month project to develop a documentary/oral history of Katrina survivors for the purpose of understanding the ways in which race, gender and socioeconomic status affected people in the disaster and its aftermath, and possible avenues to a more equitable outcome in the future
  • a community-organizing effort to help a consortium of organizations develop a ‘Making It Happen Festival’, intended as a think tank for educators and government officials pondering how to rebuild the New Orleans school system
  • a five-week effort in community organizing and media coordination to help a grassroots organization led by Katrina survivors to ensure that communities have a voice in post-disaster reconstruction

Meanwhile John Fernandez, associate professor of building technology, is working with planning professor Phil Thomson and a local NGO on planning a manufactured housing plant to produce hurricane-resistant housing for New Orleans; the project also plans to provide an employment training facility, and a community-oriented manufacturing and design center, that can provide appropriate housing for New Orleans for many years to come.

In a related effort, Fernandez undertook an effort to identify technologies best suited to addressing the worst effects of flooding and winds, including:

  • stronger window materials and frames
  • water-impermeable materials for flood damage resistance
  • fiber-reinforced roofing membranes for secure and weather-proof roofs
  • metal and structural textile strapping of wood framing to concrete foundations

He is looking to link the need for new materials to the capabilities of the local construction industry and responsible use of regional resources.

And finally, planning department head Larry Vale – following publication of his book The Resilient City – has conducted more than 70 interviews with various media and has spoken at several conferences on post-Katrina disaster recovery issues, including events sponsored by Penn, Brown, Harvard, UC Berkeley, the New School, Amherst College and the American Bar Association.

This sort of public-spirited work has long been a hallmark of the school. (See PLAN 62, for instance, for work on tsunami-resistant housing.) It is also an important characteristic of MIT at large: in addition to hosting ten undergraduates from affected areas, and accepting 15 graduate students, the MIT faculty responded to the crises with many ideas for the immediate relief and long-term recovery of the Gulf Coast. For information on MIT's other activities in this area, go here: web.mit.edu/katrina/.

PLAN 64

June 2006