Hurricane Katrina, which hit the Gulf Coast in 2005, was one of the deadliest hurricanes in the US, and the costliest disaster in the world so far. The entire district of the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans lies below sea level and was completely destroyed and its population displaced. A year after the catastrophe, nothing had been done and residents could not return to rebuild their homes and neighbourhoods. Brad Pitt visited the area while shooting a movie and decided something had to be done.
In 2007, GRAFT started the “Make It Right Foundation” (MIR) together with Brad Pitt, Bill McDonough and the Cherokee Foundation, to rebuild the Lower 9th Ward. In order to raise funds and create awareness, the foundation designed the Pink Project to officially launch the rebuilding efforts and prepare the first round of financing after Brad Pitt’s initial donation. Using an approach that blends set design and architecture, 150 pink scaffolding structures were erected on the site that was still empty 2 years after the floods. These structures served as placeholders for future buildings and building parts and acted as a compelling tool to raise awareness. Over time, as monetary donations came in, the pink placeholders were reassembled to resurrect the urban pattern of the community before the disaster.
Over the course of many months Pitt, GRAFT and the other parties involved met with former homeowners and local community leaders. GRAFT took on the role of an architectural curator on the board of MIR and invited a group of 21 architects to create a range of architectural solutions. GRAFT also contributed two designs for affordable, sustainable and safe houses based on popular dwelling typologies and the rich traditions of New Orleans. Sustainability strategies follow the cradle-to-cradle principle established by William McDonough and Michael Braungart. This and other efforts contributed to reducing energy demand, lowering monthly utility costs from up to US$ 300 before Katrina to only US$ 25 per month.
Make It Right designed a catalogue of houses with diverse styles but similar floor spaces and prices. The residents could then choose the house they wanted. All architects volunteered their time and designs for the community to create a sustainable, climate-responsive and diverse neighbourhood. To date, more than 100 homes have been built, all of which have earned LEED Platinum status, making it the largest community in the USA with this certificate. More than 350 people now live in Make It Right homes.
Graft’s proposal for housing merges metaphorical abstractions of traditional and modern architecture, drawing on the more successful components of each to create a new, robust whole. Our proposal began with a traditional New Orleans house type, the shot gun house, which is abstractly represented through an expressive, almost exaggerated gable roof and generous front porch. The fluidity of the relationship between home and community, and the provision of areas designed for interaction with neighbours and friends, is one of the things that makes the Lower Ninth so incredibly special. We felt it important to pay homage to this. These traditional typological elements are coupled with modern affordable sustainable amenities. The cross-section of the house transitions progressively towards the rear of the house, beginning as a traditional frontage facing the street and ending as a flat-roofed modern, rectilinear building at the back. This flat roof also doubles as a safe haven that the residents can flee to in the event of another flood.
The building’s sustainable features include:
Solar panels, water catchments system, a geothermal system with heat pump, tankless water heating, high ceilings for stack ventilation, operable windows which assist stack ventilation and cross ventilation, highly insulated hurricane resistant windows, High R-value insulation, no off-gassing paints and finishing materials, permeable paving, energy star appliances, ceiling fans, and low-flow toilets.
By April 2009 a total of six houses have been finished as part of the Make It Right Program in the Lower 9th Ward, the owners were able to move back and enjoy the benefits of their new homes. Two of these houses were designed by GRAFT and chosen by the homeowners, as the process at Make It Right is popular vote. Nine more houses are currently under construction, one of them also designed by GRAFT, ten houses are in the permit process. The houses designed by GRAFT are inspired by the Cradle to Cradle Philosophy and received LEED Platinum certification. They are prefabricated modular units, constructed off-site.
After the huge success of the first round of designs for the Lower 9th Ward a new group of architects was invited to design dwellings. GRAFT contributed another design for free, this time with a larger building for up to two families. The Round 2 house deploys a similar formal strategy of blending as does GRAFT’s Round 1 shotgun house. A strong visual connection to the Round 1 house was maintained in order to bring consistency of character to the New Orleans’ Lower 9th Ward, which will continue to be populated by these types of dwellings. Here, we have additionally drawn inspiration from the camelback shotgun typology. Historically, camelbacks emerged as a way for residents to add a partial second story to a residence, whether simply to gain more space for a single-family home or to add a rental unit at the rear of a structure as an additional source of income in a traditionally low income neighborhood. In our design, we utilize the camelback strategy to stack a second efficiency unit above a first floor shotgun house.
A critical programmatic goal within the design is to establish a strong connection between the private interior zone of the house and the shared public space of the street. The primary challenge in achieving this goal lies in negotiating the 8’-0” first floor height that is required to make the houses safer from future flooding with the street level. The broad and spacious deck located in the front yard mediates the relationship between public and private by raising the deck 5’-0” above grade. This offers a welcoming gesture to the street while at the same time creating a semi-private space for the inhabitants of the house to enjoy.
Residents may enter the house from the side porch landing, leading them into a large open space, containing living, dining and kitchen functions. The lower unit has a flexible three bedroom layout that can be converted into a two bedroom and office layout if desired. The master suite at the rear of the house contains an en-suite bathroom that shares a common wet wall with the unit’s other bathroom and kitchen making a cost-efficient plumbing core.
An exterior stair carries the inhabitants of the efficiency unit up to a rooftop terrace entry deck. This secondary deck level may be utilized as a private deck for the upper dwelling. It provides a generous outdoor living space, views of the neighborhood, space for a small vegetable or herb garden, and easy access to the solar panel array for maintenance. The upper unit itself is designed to be a simple one bedroom dwelling with a living room and dining area facing the backyard. Here, the efficiency kitchen shares a wall with the bath to form a cost-efficient plumbing core. The kitchen forms an ‘L’ at the perimeter of the living and dining area in order to create an open and inviting space.