Since Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast last fall, well-meaning architects, designers and planners the world over have been scrambling to submit proposals for rebuilding New Orleans. Surprisingly, however, the discussion has mainly been concentrated around what to rebuild – sidestepping the deeper issues of how and why rebuild in a floodplain at all. It is common knowledge that New Orleans was a disaster waiting to happen, simply because of the physical geological situation of the area. The city sits below sea-level in an area of former wetlands, surrounded by water in every direction – sandwiched between a giant lake, the Mississippi river and the ocean. Clearly the only acceptable proposals for rebuilding New Orleans are ones that propose a solution to deal with the almost certain likelihood of being flooded again.
Sometimes it takes an outsider with a fresh pair of eyes to realize the obvious. In this case, it was the syncronicity between a New Orleans schoolgirl named Courtney S. and Dutch architectural firm MVRDV which led to a great idea for rebuilding New Orleans: build hills! The idea is so simple, so sensible, so obvious, and yet strangely no-one had seriously proposed it. Until now….
“We came across a drawing of one schoolkid. She drew this hill with people walking up to the top in the rain. It had something religious as well as sentimental to it, but the simpleness was highly appealing. Perhaps we should realize her dream.. A school that can serve as a public hill, from where everyone can look over the neighborhood, the city, the landscape. A clear haven. Where children play. With benches and swings in the trees…”
The design proposal is not just a hill – but a structure with buildings and public spaces embedded inside. All the inhabitable structures are situated above sealevel and are designed to be safe in case of emergency.
MVRDV’s proposal for rebuilding New Orleans was one of 8 designs commissioned by the Netherlands Architecture Institure (NAI). Together with the Tulane University School of Architecture and the American art magazine Artforum, the NAI asked six renowned architecture practices from the Netherlands and the U.S.A. to develop visions for symbolic and shared spaces for New Orleans. The practices are MVRDV, Ben van Berkel (UN Studio) and Adriaan Geuze (West 8) from the Netherlands, and Huff + Gooden Architects, Morphosis and Hargreaves Associates from the USA. The exhibition will becoming to the US sometime this year.