the atlantic on new orleans – mammoth // building nothing out of something

the atlantic on new orleans

Wayne Curtis in The Atlantic on architecture and the reconstruction of New Orleans:

Four years after Katrina, the rebuilding of New Orleans is not proceeding the way anyone envisioned, nor with the expected cast of characters. (If I may emphasize: Brad Pitt is the city’s most innovative and ambitious housing developer.) But it’s hard to say what people were expecting, given the magnitude of the disaster and the hopes raised in the weeks immediately following. Seventeen days after the storm, President George W. Bush stood in Jackson Square and promised: “We will stay as long as it takes to help citizens rebuild their communities and their lives.”

The terms we, as long as it takes, and help turned out to be fairly elastic. The Federal Emergency Management Agency shuttered its long-term recovery office about six months later, after a squabble with the city over who would pay for the planning process. Since then, depending on whom you talk to, government at all levels has been passive and slow-moving at best, or belligerent and actively harmful at worst. Mayor Ray Nagin occasionally surfaces to advertise a big new scheme (a jazz park, a theater district), about which no one ever hears again. A new 20-year master plan and comprehensive zoning ordinance was being ironed out early this summer, but it remains subject to city-council approval. A post-Katrina master plan has been under discussion since before the floodwaters were pumped out.

In the absence of strong central leadership, the rebuilding has atomized into a series of independent neighborhood projects. And this has turned New Orleans—moist, hot, with a fecund substrate that seems to allow almost anything to propagate—into something of a petri dish for ideas about housing and urban life. An assortment of foundations, church groups, academics, corporate titans, Hollywood celebrities, young people with big ideas, and architects on a mission have been working independently to rebuild the city’s neighborhoods, all wholly unconcerned about the missing master plan. It’s at once exhilarating and frightening to behold.

Perhaps the most interesting section is the portion on 3428 Dauphine St and Andres Duany; I can’t decide if Duany is being incredibly condescending or accidentally brilliant.

14 Responses to “the atlantic on new orleans”

  1. Stephen says:

    Doesn’t Bill live there now? I’d love to hear his thoughts on this article.

  2. J.D. Hammond says:

    Duany? Given his track record, I’d assume condescension. Have you seen what he did with the Tacheles in Berlin?

  3. Stephen says:

    I haven’t. Any particular link you would recommend, beyond a google search?

  4. rholmes says:

    What I thought might be accidentally brilliant was the recognition of the link between fuzzy legalities (poor ownership records, disinterest in building codes, etc.) and a culture oriented around leisure.

    But, that said, and while I don’t know about what he did in Berlin, I think you’re right to assume condescension (he’s not far from saying “Lower standards for lower people!”).

  5. Sandy Sorlien says:

    I have worked with Andres Duany in New Orleans and other cities affected by Katrina, and he is not being at all condescending. He has tremendous empathy with the less powerful – that’s why he designs and develops housing (and zoning codes) for them. (He shares this trait with Brad Pitt.) What does “accidentally brilliant” mean? The notion that New Orleans is different from other American cities is simple – anyone who spends some time walking and conversing there can see that – but the idea that it is in fact a Caribbean city is brilliant. No accident…

  6. rholmes says:


    No argument that New Orleans is rather different from other American cities, and perhaps I was harsher than I should have been in describing what I thought I liked as “accidental”. If I’m disposed to think of Duany as condescending, though, it’s because, in my experience (apparently more limited than yours — one lecture, a book, various interviews and comments in articles), I’ve found him to be rather dismissive of alternate viewpoints. In this particular case, I thought both (a) the dismissal of Pitt’s project as “bullshit” and (b) the characterization of New Orleans as by-nature “ill-governed… full of ill-educated people, with a great deal of crime, a great deal of dirt, a great deal of poverty”, in a way that implied that those things should be accepted (that implication is what is particularly objectionable), could be described as condescending. Which isn’t to say that he couldn’t also be empathetic; we all contradict ourselves.

  7. J.D. Hammond says:

    Kunsthaus Tacheles was a department store in east Berlin that was derelict and unrepaired after the war. It was a famous site for East German counterculture, then was occupied by squatter punk artists when the Wall fell and eventually became a focal point for the arts and counterculture in what was becoming reunified Germany’s “poor-but-sexy” capital.

    Duany wants to conduct an “historically sensitive redevelopment of a war-wrecked block in central Berlin.” By which he means he intends to turn it back into a department store. Pending legal disputes, however, he, erm, generously decided to wait ten years before he pushes the punks out. That stay expires in 2012.

  8. J.D. Hammond says:

    …Actually, I just discovered the stay might expire sooner than that. The collective was foreclosed upon in 2008 and the original owners have put the building back up for sale.

  9. rholmes says:

    Ah. I’d heard about that (though I didn’t recognize the name), but didn’t know Duany had any involvement in it. Doesn’t reflect too well, I don’t think — though the Owen Hatherly post you link to provides some interesting depth to the story.

  10. namhenderson says:

    Love this line;
    ““Community has to be the new titanium”

  11. faslanyc says:

    That New Orleans is a Caribbean city is not a notion original to Duany. And Duany does seem to characterize all Caribbean cities badly with his “new orleans is the geneva of the caribbean”. What a rough metaphor.

    The article was great though, it’s journalistic thoroughness painted a good picture.

  12. J.D. Hammond says:

    “Geneva of the Caribbean”? It’s not even particularly high-altitude. This metaphor is dangling towards Tom Friedman levels of mixed.

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