Hurricane Katrina, Three Years Later

[photo taken in May…2008]

It’s the third anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. For new readers who may not have followed this blog from the beginning, Life Without Buildings was conceived in a French Quarter alley and born on a Garden District Balcony into the depressing heat of a New Orleans summer and post-architecture school ennui. Then came Hurricane Katrina and for a while it became a rarely-udpated travelogue of evacuation, the end result of which was an apartment in San Francisco’s Haight Ashbury neighborhood. Leaving New Orleans might have been the hardest decision I’ve ever made and not one single day has passed where I haven’t wondered if I chose wrong.

This Friday’s links are a collection of posts written about The Big Easy — some while I was living there and some about the city’s redevelopment. I’d also like to again ask everyone to send a letter to in defense of preserving New Orleans Regional Modernism before its nothing but a memory. Comments can be sent to For more information, please check out the collection of links posted at Archinect.

  • Modern in New Orleans: A Bike Tour: Just a few days before evacuating, I took my new bike for a ride around town to document some of the more recently built contemporary architecture in the New Orleans.

  • New Orleans in Exile: The evacuation post. At this point we really didn’t have any idea of just how bad things were going to get…

  • Evacuation Day 10: “You don’t need me to tell you that things are pretty bad in new orleans right now. It’s been a strange time. I don’t really know when i’ll be able to return to work, much less when i’ll be able to return to the city. my apartment seems to be ok and my friends are safe, but it pains me to say that some of them have been left homeless. The seriousness of this catastrophe is finally catching up with me and its unbelievably frustrating to be able to do nothing.”

  • N.O. Return: Some thoughts on returning to New Orleans after two months of nomadism. “Previously abstract portions of the city fabric have gained a new power in their absence – phantom pains in a dismembered city. A fallen tree and its resulting absent canopy, an empty lot, missing street lights… Although at times it was difficult to specify what had changed, things were different. That first day, the overall effect was incredibly disorienting.”

  • Katrina Memories, Looking Back After Two Years: Notes from the moleskin I thankfully had with me during the evacuation. “Day 4. Drove all night across Texas. Never again. Rumors abound. Fires? looting? militias? martial law? Friends stuck in the city? Friends getting airlifted out? It’s impossible to know what’s ACTUALLY happening. Over the next few days, we seemed to take turns breaking down, everyone in their own way. This is a frustration I’ve never known.”

  • Stealing Magnolias: Looting continues in New Orleans, only this time thieves aren’t after sneakers and flatscreen tv’s. Their new prize? Cornices, window shutters, and other architectural ornaments.

  • The New New Orleans Riverfront: The proposed adaptive reuse of the old Rice Mill in New Orleans’ Bywater Neighborhood. A beautiful and sustainable project that will hopefully one day be realized.

  • Local Architects Shaping the New New Orleans: A look at some of the post-Katrina greatest hits from local architects.

  • “The Architectural Soul of the City at Stake”: Reprinted from an excellent article in the New Orleans Times Picayune 2 years after the storm.

  • Third URBANbuild House Almost Complete: A closeup look at the Architecture School house during a trip back to New Orleans last May.

  • It’s Pinup Tme for The Sundance Channel’s Architecture School:In today’s reality-TV obsessed culture, any architecture student who has spent an all-nighter (i.e. every architecture student) working in studio has had the 4 am amphetamine-induced epiphany, “hey, someone should make this into a reality show.” Well now someone has.

  • ReNew Orleans: Thom Mayne’s Plan. Yeah…we’re guessing this one never comes up again.

  • For some amazing work by New Orleans area artists and writers, check out the beautifully designed journal Constance, which was recently listed in the New Orleans 100. An interview with the duo behind Constance can be read at PSFK.

  • Also on the New Orleans 100: Defend New Orleans. Why not head to the website and buy a shirt from this “fashion and lifestyle brand that embosses the attitude and lifestyle of New Orleans from the people that live it everyday.”

  • The Gustave Tracker

Preserving The Modernist Schools of New Orleans

[Thomy Lafon School, Curtis and Davis, architects; Frank Lotz Miller, photographer; Tulane Libraries, Special Collections, Southeastern Architectural Archives. Via Regional Modernism]

Architecturally, New Orleans is perhaps best known for its Creole cottages, shotgun houses, and the mixed-influences of the French Quarter. But there is a small yet important concentration of Regional Modernism in the Big Easy and local Modernists are doing their damnedest to preserve it. Let’s just hope its not too late. Currently facing the biggest threat are 30 area schools built during the 50s — 29 of which are slated for demolition or land-banking. Take for example, the Thomy Lafon Elementary School, pictured above. While similar facilities have been appropriated and reused for civic purposes, usually to the great benefit of the neighborhood, the New Orleans School Facilities Master Plan proposes no alternative use for this building. It’s simply scheduled for closure and eventual demolition. We’ve mentioned this before on Life Without Buildings, but as the issue comes to a head, the importance of preserving Modernism in New Orleans cannot be stressed enough — especially now that New Orleans is welcoming a new generation of Regional Modernists.

There are fewer than 30 days left to make your opinions heard and join a growing chorus in support of these buildings. Comments can be sent to Docomomo, the Tulane School of Architecture, and the AIA are working together save these buildings, so take a minute, find your inner modernist (we’re guessing you really won’t have to look far) and drop an email to the city. To learn more, a fantastic place to start is Regional Modernism: The New Orleans Archive, a blog dedicated to the documentation and preservation of Modernism in New Orleans.