Students vie —and place — in international competition to rebuild New OrleansBy Jane Ford
When Architectural Record magazine and Tulane’s School of Architecture held an international ideas competition to design housing for
hurricane-ravaged New Orleans, U.Va. associate architecture professor Maurice Cox knew he had the perfect project for his spring graduate design studio. He saw a way to immerse students in the kind of civic activism and community service that has been the hallmark of his architectural career. The former Charlottesville mayor and designer of Bayview, Va., a black community that, until Cox’s intervention, consisted of shacks with open sewage, knows the power of people working together for change.
The New Orleans competition, “Higher Density on Higher Ground,” was intended to generate proposals to create a small but dense community of housing and retail spaces that wold lure people back to the city.
The competition allowed the students, as practicing architects, to “balance their interest in design in its purest form and design as altered by the realities of building post-Katrina,” Cox said. “It was a call to answer real problems of rebuilding New Orleans.”
The students competed with professionals and were recognized for their talents. From the 275 entries, the judges selected two winners, three commended projects and about 20 others for exhibition.
The project by graduate students Justin Laskin and Kathleen Mark, both of whom earn degrees on Sunday, was selected in the commended category — recognized as one of the top five entrants. Designs by Lorenzo Battistelli and Kristin Hennings, and Alli Dryer and James Pressly were chosen for exhibition as was a project submitted by architecture school faculty members Judith Kinnard and Kenneth Schwartz with alumnus Kathleen Kambric.
U.Va. was the only school with three student projects represented in the exhibit in New Orleans’ Ogden Museum of Art in May, Cox said.
Winning and commended projects will also be exhibited at the American Institute of Architects convention in Los Angeles and at the Venice Biennale International Architecture Exhibition, and will be published in the June issue of Architectural Record.
“The fact that it was an international competition and getting student work out there is an honor,” Mark said. “You usually do not see student work published.”
It was an opportunity “to work on a site that was on a big scale,” Battistelli said of the 140-unit mid-rise project that he and Hennings designed. “As students we have not done that before.”
Another new aspect for the students, who were accustomed to working alone on projects, was being paired up in design teams.
In the current environment in New Orleans a lot of questioning is going on at all levels and the students responded to that, Cox said. “They worked with an intensity that I have not seen before. There was a sense that their work really mattered.”
In the fall, many had an opportunity to learn about the issues and conditions in post-Katrina New Orleans in a course taught by William Morrish.
While the intellectual groundwork was laid in the course, a trip to New Orleans provided a context for their designs. There they met with politicians, experts and citizens who stayed and those who’d recently made their way back. Gutting a house drove home the magnitude of the losses the citizens had suffered.
“That kind of site-based learning and engagement in the real-world is so important,” Cox said.
For Benjamin Thompson, who partnered with Kline on a entry, it brought home the importance of a personal connection between architects and the people they are designing for. “It made it less of an intellectual solution and gave me a personal understanding about architecture. [The visit] brought a different perspective to the work,” he said.