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NEW/ORLEANS//2006//

The project begins with a catalog of 196 blighted and adjudicated properties spread across three neighborhoods adjacent to the French Quarter.

These distributed parcels evidence the historical process of urban decay consequent from suburban growth among other factors. The space of each lot is mapped with relevant statistical information about its constituent block, including the proportion of rental units and the percentage of residents living below the poverty line. Significantly, many neighborhoods, including the study area, saw a jump in land values post-Katrina because of their physical elevation, with the market for housing in low lying areas in steep decline.

Additionally, the City implemented a “lot next door” policy, which gives residents priority to purchase an adjacent property with the hope (made explicit by the city council) that lots would be aggregated and people would build larger homes as a way to increase community wealth. While proposed under noble pretenses, the logic of legislating to decrease density on the most viable locations for rebuilding is questionable at best.

This consideration for the urban fabric, also raises important architectural questions related to why the value of dwelling is so closely linked with size when the value of land is tied principally to location. The project speculates that this seeming misalignment is, in part, tied to our systems of housing production.

The legacy of standardization, not only through physical building systems, but through space making within a suburban model of greenfield development is perhaps ill-adapted to address the complex variability of existing urban sites.

Within this framework, the design is not of homes per se, but of strategies to address or make explicit the issues of adapting to new social and physical territories.

For example, after Katrina, all new dwellings were required to be built above a new elevational datum to minimize the future impact of flooding: a socially constructed spatial definition, legislated by a political entity through an abstract assessment of risk. The consequence, is an architecture that must build its foundations based upon this social construction rather than any longstanding relationship that architecture may have once had with the physical reality of ground.

The original 196 sites were first considered in aggregate. After assessing a minimum potential site—not representative of any single location nor an average but a kind of least common denominator—a basic internal core configuration was developed. Internal divisions respond to a global rather than local orientation, which necessitated a core that could meet the demands of the four possible site orientations resulting from the city’s grid.

In existing homes, minor interior alterations help the spaces adapt to contemporary standards of privacy and program while better aligning spatial conditions to environmental performance.

For newly built dwellings, the interior core adapts to each lot by extending its interior spaces to the extent desired or to the buildable perimeter. Beyond a certain threshold of lot size, the configuration can also adapt to provide an accessory unit to provide rental income as either a residential or small commercial space. These spaces help build flexibility and wealth for the community though density and by building relationships rather than simply through the accumulation of material goods, i.e. larger houses.

Project completed in collaboration with the Spatial Information Design Lab at Columbia University.