Custom Residential Architects Network

  • 1.  The Lower 9th Ward | It's a pit… I wanted to throw up in my mouth.

    Posted 12-09-2010 11:27 AM

    By David SR Andreozzi, Architect, AIA/CRAN, CORA

    From the glossy pages of most every architectural magazine and newspaper, this week I had the chance to tour the anointed hallowed grounds of the future of everything good in residential architecture.... the new Lower 9th Ward in New Orleans.  A development created by the world's greatest architects in order to recapture the sense of community that thrived in the culturally rich community before the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.

    I am 49 years young. This was the most disturbing architectural experience of my life... nothing comes close.  At first glance, my impression was of standing in a true life site model of freshmen architecture projects, gone really bad... like acid trip bad.  This new sculpture park is a collection of unrelated starchitect structures (some good, most not) that stand proudly to everything wrong with architecture today. Each project seems to scream "It's all about me and my architect" with little connection or appreciation of what's around them. The people of the Lower 9th Ward asked to rebuild in the same location in order to preserve their rich sense of culture and history, yet there is no such connection in sight and no apparent urban plan binding the parts together as a whole.  

    Further disturbing was their experimentation with new and seemingly inappropriate building technologies. In my opinion, this borders on negligent because if another devastating flood occurs, their design decisions will assure more failures than that if designed conservatively.

    From a design standpoint, an obscene amount of money has been spent on some radical award winning labor intensive framing that could have been used to reduce the cost of the structures and build more homes. How much more irresponsible does it get?

    Well, the buildings have been built from 3 feet above grade to 8 feet above grade to give the owners the option to drive under their house. The resultant is a random array of unrelated structures to their streetscape neighbors.  Jane Jacobs, proponent of a streetscape as complimenting teeth to a beautiful smile, is turning over in her grave... I can assure you.

    Brad Pitt L'Enfant, all of the starchitects, all of the judges, and all of the governmental agencies that allowed and participated in this design disaster need to step back and reevaluate their decision making.

    I could write a book on what I experienced in one short hour.  I would call it Learning From Las Vegas... oh, that's already been taken. Instead, I am praying to God to wash this experience from my memory. It flies in the face of everything we learned at college... the social responsibility we hold as architects.  Mark my words, twenty years from now the Lower 9th Ward will be a Petri dish filled with everything wrong in architecture today.

    During the last 5 decades we have changed from celebrating the structure to celebrating the famous architect. Rather than celebrating the building or the architect, perhaps the glossy magazines need to start celebrating the process.  We live in a world where it has become acceptable to design sculpture, place program within it, and anoint the architect genius. We need to begin to evaluate architecture based on content, not style nor architectural star power.

    The devastated community of the Lower 9th Ward deserved better!

     

    More information on the Lower 9th Ward's current renovation can be found at Making it Wrong

    David Andreozzi is a residential Architect in Barrington, Rhode Island with work spreading from Maine to the Bahamas. David currently is on the national steering committees for AIA Custom Residential Network and the Congress of Residential Architecture.  Also, David is drafting a white paper for CRAN on the importance of judging architecture on content, context, and vernacular, without regards to style. His website is www.andreozzi.com



  • 2.  RE:The Lower 9th Ward | It's a pit… I wanted to throw up in my mouth.

    Posted 12-10-2010 11:00 AM
    David,
    Nice article.  I have suspected that this was the case but haven't seen it first hand.  We'll all get to be embarrassed at this year's AIA convention.  Though some of us won't have the good sense to blush.

    First off, we should recognize that the Lower 9th wasn't paradise before Katrina. If a place can be martyred, that's what they did with the "memory of the old Lower 9th Ward.  It was a crime ridden, dilapidated slum.  Don't kid yourself.  Death can gloss over a lot of past transgressions.  Suddenly, Michael Jackson comes to mind.  If Katrina hadn't happened, Brad would not have gone near it.  Has he been to Detroit?  Same poverty but no TV cameras.

    But the new paradigm is to never waste a crisis.  So with the cloak of self righteousness the "do gooders" swooped in to "help".  But really they were there to further their own agendas and line their pockets.  Since these residents were disenfranchised, they weren't in control of the process.  I'm sure their were a few community planning charrettes complete with media coverage and I'm sure the residents were so overly thankful for the help that it would have seemed ungrateful to resist.  The architects were free to run wild and create follies, further burnishing the public's perception of what we do: waste money. 

    What would I like to have seen happen?  I would have wanted to see a planning framework established.  There should have been some rules established similar to a home owners association set of rules.  Not to make it Seaside, Florida but not to let it be Las Vegas, Nevada either.  Budgets should have been established and architects assigned to a real family who would be the client and who would be incentivized to control costs.  We needed honest practical houses preferably built by the very same residents who live there.  A well built modest house and a job would have been a great outcome. 

    I can't wait to see it.

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    Richard McKay AIA
    Subtlecraft
    New York NY
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  • 3.  RE:The Lower 9th Ward | It's a pit… I wanted to throw up in my mouth.

    Posted 12-10-2010 11:58 AM

    I am getting so many kind private emails regarding my post. I really encorage every to post puiblicly on this. We need to expose it for is. Here is a most recent one :

    Just read your comments regarding New Orleans 9th Ward and couldn't agree more. I lived in New Orleans for several years before moving. Part of the charm and feel of New Orleans has always been it's architecture. I travel to New Orleans once a year with my family through our church for a week to assist in the rebuilding of existing homes in areas that were destroyed by Katrina and have seen exactly what you are talking about. Thanks for stating what needed to be said.


    I will be speaking at the next convention in a half day workshop on Neo-Regional Architecture along with Kevin Harris and Russell Versaci. I am sure this will come up in the introduction.

    Title: Reinventing Residential Architecture by Rediscovering Regional Vernacular

    Program Abstract:  A century of modernity has worked to strip the vernacular and historic precedent from academia, the architectural press, and association awards ceremonies. We live in a time of starchitects that design sculpture with secondary program placed upon it, and we all celebrate this as good. It can be argued that our current paradigm actually discriminates against history and individual culture in architecture in whole.Amongst this backdrop, a new emerging paradigm is inventing itself, a new genesis! An architectural order that relearns and reapplies the historic code of the architectural genome, Vitruvius's ultimate synthesis as a backbone to good residential architecture, "Commodity, Firmness, and Delight,"  but then adds to this matrix two more; Vernacular, in respect both cultural and topographic, and Regionalism in respect to natural resources and labor. "Green" without the commercial gain. "Green" because it's right and fundamental to the architectural process. It is a new architecture based on an age old formula that suggests that the local materials, culture, and ideologies form the architectural building blocks to true idiosyncratic regional design.

    Thanks for all the support

    David


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    David Andreozzi AIA
    Andreozzi Architects
    Barrington RI
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  • 4.  RE:The Lower 9th Ward | It's a pit… I wanted to throw up in my mouth.

    Posted 12-13-2010 08:53 AM
    Dear Richard, David, et al-

    My view is that the problem in the lower ninth ward of New Orleans - and the problem in general in responding our self-imposed disaster of building and living in flood plains, is not the failure to retrieve a professionalized version of a regional vernacular style, or the failure of poverty-stricken local residents to set up policing mechanisms for design (heaven forbid!).

    It's true, though, that redevelopment driven by outside agents somehow doesn't look right to us architects even though architects have done most of the redevelopment.  Perhaps that says something about our own lack of perspective.

    The problem is that the basic house type that existed in a place like the lower ninth ward was a simple shelter that sat on the ground, not requiring a lot of advice from professional designers.  I guess that would be a classic definition of a vernacular.  Unfortunately it would be unwise to rebuild in that manner since to do so would subject the residents to future destructive floods.

    Our regulatory framework has accounted for this - chiefly for use in wealthy resort areas where people can spend extra money to elevate their houses above the ground, and this regulatory framework has generated an operating aesthetic of freestanding object architecture in which each house is seeking its own facsimile of splendid isolation.  It's pretty hard to achieve anything else in those settings - and it's pretty hard to imagine translating that framework successfully into an urban neighborhood of modest means.

    People in a place like the lower ninth ward are urban people who live in small one-story dwellings.  Like any urban dwellers they need - and have been able to depend upon - the community around them in an intimate way.  However they are not fully in charge of the architects and planners who are adapting their community to the regulatory framework of the tidal floodplain, or the aesthetic framework of the professional designer in our highly-mannered historical period. They may not realize how expensive, and socially challenging, it will be to live with the results.

    There is a lot of designer silliness that I have seen in published pictures of what's going on in New Orleans, but the people who live there will correct that and make it into something better as time goes on.  What concerns me is that as the "sustainable" version of a place like the ninth ward is built, it may turn out to be economically and socially unsustainable precisely because the "sustainability" adaptations (such as houses on stilts) that have been made will subvert the urban character of the place.   

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    Robert Dean AIA
    Principal Architect
    Robert Dean Architects
    New Canaan CT
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  • 5.  RE:The Lower 9th Ward | It's a pit… I wanted to throw up in my mouth.

    Posted 12-13-2010 09:52 AM

    "urban character of the place."

    Robert, you summed up my entire point in five words... much better than "throw up in my mouth!"

    Tragically, this experiment has little to no chance to succeed as a unified community bonded to the history and culture of the Lower 9th and New Orleans in general, because NO apparent forethought went in to creating a rich underlying web of rules and regulations to design upon.

    I am sorry, but someone has to say it, this experiment in urban recreation, (a community in utero,) will not reach full term. It will self implode and abort itself. I truly sympathize with all the residents of the Lower ninth. It was our social responsibility to do more.

    Dave
       

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    David Andreozzi AIA
    Andreozzi Architects
    Barrington RI
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  • 6.  RE:The Lower 9th Ward | It's a pit… I wanted to throw up in my mouth.

    Posted 12-10-2010 01:44 PM

    Bravisimmo David!

    You said everything that I have been thinking and preaching for quite a long time. 

    Just this past Thanksgiving we had dinner at some friends that remodeled a 90 year old house using floor-to-ceiling / wall-to-wall steel and glass.  There was no space to relax because you were always "high profile" no matter where you went.  Very fatiguing.  After we left, I told my wife that I never wanted to design anything that would make the end user change their lifestyle so dramatically.  I also noticed that their starchitect hasn't been able to get their building permit finalized.  I suspect that there are numerous things that aren't code compliant and that all the construction changes haven't been documented.

    There was a cable tv documentary a couple years back that tracked some architectural students designing and building in the 9th Ward.  It was pitiful.  The students' interactions were pitiful. The designs were pitiful.  The whole thing was very shallow.

    Keep up the good fight,


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    Ken Brogno AIA
    Architect
    AIA, LEED AP
    San Francisco CA
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  • 7.  RE:The Lower 9th Ward | It's a pit… I wanted to throw up in my mouth.

    Posted 12-13-2010 08:16 PM
    I couldn't agree more! I don't think i have ever seen a more self centered group of buildings that stand in complete rejection of the architectural prototypes of New Orleans and totally disengaged from the needs and wishes of the Clients. I can't believe they ever talked to the future residents, or had any interest in their aspirations. They were designed as a means of capturing a good measure of PR for the firms and winning future Design Awards.  

    I find the "Float House" by Thom Mayne particularly egregious. The entire assemblage is suppose to float 12' above grade in the event of a Flood...  I'm very incredulous that the system will actually function/has been properly tested/will be maintained in any kind of functional condition. The window placement appears to be entirely random, the materials on the interior harsh and uninviting, and the roof form awkward and leak prone... I could go on...

    I guess if you give someone essentially a free home, they will live in almost anything, regardless of how visually hideous... 

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    Dan Sloan, R.A.,  Assoc. AIA
    Sloan Properties Group, Inc.
    Delray Beach FL
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  • 8.  RE:The Lower 9th Ward | It's a pit… I wanted to throw up in my mouth.

    Posted 12-17-2010 09:00 AM
    Dan,

    We were told that these units were selling for around 150K with the subsidies. The problem is that the people can buy a house in another neighborhood for 110K, so they aren't coming. So lets review... we are rebuilding in a neighborhood that is vulnerable to flooding because the 24,000 people wanted to go back to a community they had a cultural connection to.  Thee is no cultural connection by poor urban design and they have to spend 50% more to live there, so only they aren't coming.

    This is a total clusterfuck.  (that is a technical term)

    Oh, but the good news... we love to buy the glossy magazines that feature these houses!

    Dave

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    David Andreozzi AIA
    Andreozzi Architects
    Barrington RI
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