Project type: Single Family House
Location: Lower Ninth Ward, New Orleans, LA, U.S.A.
Photo credits: Virginia Miller
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.