After the Gulf Coast hurricanes, plenty of people (most of them a safe distance outside the disaster zone) suggested that the architectural destruction presented an unprecedented opportunity to rebuild sustainably. Lots of designs and competitions have emerged in the 22 months since the storms, proposing various strategies for addressing survivability, efficiency, and environmentally-sound construction.
Today a small group of architects, community activists and scientists gathered at Tulane University in New Orleans to talk about these issues in the context of a proposed rebuilding plan for the Lower Ninth Ward's Holy Cross neighborhood that they say will produce the nation's first and only climate neutral community. The presentation streamed as a live webcast (which should be viewable here but isn't up as of this writing), so I had a chance to attend virtually from my desk in Seattle.
The members of Zero Carbon Nola call the circumstances in the Lower Ninth a "perfect storm" -- but not in the way you might think. They consider it a perfect storm of sustainability, due to the fortuitous collision of public attention, celebrity support, and throngs of willing volunteers. Bob Berkebile, an architect from Kansas City Missouri, began today's talk on an optimistic note, even as he showed images of gutted shotgun houses and piles of flood-damaged household goods. He spoke of three primary drivers for change: population, poverty and carbon, and said that carbon has without a doubt become the number one priority, because without drastic reductions, we are feeding the likelihood of another weather disaster. By building with a zero carbon commitment, New Orleans can be its own preventative measure against future catastrophic floods.
After Berkebile, Charles Allen III, from the Tulane/Xavier Center for Bioenvironmental Research, gave a rich overview of community rebuilding activity in New Orleans. He talked about the Neighborhood Empowerment Network Association (NENA) (not much at their site), a community-initiated and -run organization to aid Ninth Ward residents, advocate for housing rights, and restore the economic health of the area. One of the projects based at the NENA recovery center is "SOLA' in NOLA," (see video here) -- an initiative by Sharp Solar that provided ten solar electric systems to homes and a community center in New Orleans, and installed them with a crew of volunteers.
Zero Carbon NOLA is still in its infancy but with the webcast and their outreach efforts, they are spreading the word of their intentions and of well-founded hope in the possibility that the rebuilding effort can be a sustainable, affordable, community-driven endeavor. In their vision, the climate neutral reincarnation of Holy Cross will promise a more secure future for the displaced residents who want to reestablish themselves knowing they'll be on dry, solid ground for generations to come.
Meanwhile, in other NOLA green building, Shelter Architecture and a group of architecture students from the University of Minnesota revealed the prototype of their Clean Hub, "a rapidly deployable, completely off the grid, renewable source of clean water, sanitation and power." The structure is designed for immediate disaster response as an alternative to the flawed or failed existing systems. Shelter Architecture founder, John Dwyer, characterized Clean Hub as "essentially a loophole in the policy that allows for a healthier approach to disaster response." It's certainly questionable how receptive FEMA or other outside organizations might be to such an alternative, but the portability and sustainability of the structure make compelling arguments in favor of this kind of reconsideration of disaster response design.
Learn more about the Clean Hub and support it in its efforts to win the American Express Members Project Competition at the following links: