In August 2006, Global Green and Brad Pitt announced the winners of the Global Green Sustainable Design Competition For New Orleans. The winning proposal, titled GreeNOLA and submitted by Matthew Berman and Andrew Kotchen of Workshop APD, calls for six houses and two multifamily units which employ energy-efficient appliances, solar power, and recycled building materials, as well as providing social services like child care and a community garden. Workshop APD’s proposal is designed to cut pollution and decrease operating energy use by 50-60 percent, compared to traditional homes. The success of the GreeNOLA design is its seemless integration of cutting edge green technology with the traditional building wisdom of the region. This combination creates healthy and affordable new residences for displaced residents of New Orleans. We sat down with the two architects to discuss their winning design proposal for rebuilding in New Orleans – read on for the interview after the jump.

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Matthew Berman, Andrew Kotchen, Workshop APD, Global Green Design Competition, New Orleans, Brad Pitt, Sustainable Design for New Orleans, Green Building, Green Design

JILL: So tell me about your design proposal for the 9th ward in New Orleans

Andrew: It started with researching the 9th Ward and the Holy Cross area, where our site is. In our research of the greater context we wanted to propose new ideas for how to redevelop the area by bringing commercial, bringing in retail, revegetating the landscape, creating more of a linear park across the river and then begin inserting our ideas onto the site. Our focus was to achieve a greater understanding of prefabricated modular construction – these pieces end up evolving and becoming three-dimensional elements and then getting assembled in an infinite configuration and through a series of selection processes you end up with a structure.

Jill: So there’s a market and community center on the lower level of the site?

Matthew: The idea is that this whole open corner would be the farmer’s market and public area as it reaches out into the rest of the community. Then you come into the interior of the site: parking, day care, children’s play space, market with the community food production area; again it’s sort of buffered by the other buildings. This is the bridge. It’s a community bridge that pulls you in from the rest of the community right through the middle of the site and up onto the levy. The idea is that the residents can control access to the site. We were intentionally trying to activate the site by pulling the community through it as opposed to walling off the site and creating an interior that’s only for residents.

Jill: Is it specifically designed to be affordable or lower income housing?

Matthew: It’s intended to be affordable housing, not necessarily lower income housing. It’s trying to be affordable housing through its sustainability. For example it was designed as a net zero site so that all of the energy production happens on site, and it’s done through affordable tax and more efficient systems that reduce the load- the energy load- so the idea is that nobody would have an electric bill.

Andrew: Net zero is the sewer waste and water, it’s all cisterns, we reclaim water, reuse gray water and recycle the water through the site. The idea is that nothing goes out and nothing comes in to the site.

Matthew: It’s also intended to be affordable through the design options. A lot of these single family houses are set up and it works well with the typical New Orleans prototypes, the shot gun house and the Creole cottage, but most of these houses have either out buildings or internal apartments that can be rented out and that’s how a lot of people maintain the affordability. So there were different ways of thinking about affordability.

Jill: So lets talk about the climate down there and the systems for heating and cooling. I know it’s really humid in New Orleans and people tend to use air conditioners. Is it possible to use passive design elements in this sort of climate?

Andrew: In New Orleans the humidity averages at 75% throughout the year so it is impossible to cool spaces without mechanical cooling. So it can’t just be passive ventilation and breezes blowing through – so we’re using a geothermal system that is combined with a Z-coil dehumidification system, which is essentially a pumped-up air conditioning system with a few other modules put onto it that’s more efficient.

So there is a form of mechanical cooling, which is supplemented by a geothermal drawing from the earth’s temperature and circulating it back up through the structures. And we’ve oriented our buildings so that they can get maximum cross ventilation. That’s why everything has this shotgun effect. We have louvers systems at either end so that at certain times of the day you can open and close them to minimize heat gain, but open them for breezes to come through. All these strategies have been in use for 30 or 40 years. We’ve just packaged it together in a place that’s never heard of or seen it before.

Jill: Have you done any market testing or interviewing of residents of the area, or anything to get a sense of what local New Orleans residents think about your designs?

Matthew: Yes- the second phase for this competition was very intense and very well choreographed. They invited the six finalists down three separate times to New Orleans to meet with design jury members, technical jury members, and community groups.

We made several presentations to community groups over this six-week period — where we would go down initially with our first boards, an hour presentation where we talk for ten minutes and then respond to questions with answers and really try and develop and flesh out what their needs are and their interests are. So we definitely got to know them and develop a really good rapport and understand their needs and desires.

Andrew: Global Green has set up an operation down there that sponsors of the competition and they’ve done a lot of community outreach where they’ve done several presentations. So, the competition is on the heels of them already being there for about four months and trying really to establish this notion of sustainability.

Matthew: We were very successful at listening to what each of the constituents had to say and filtering it through our own ideas to see, to work those things in so that we felt comfortable with the product we were producing, but we also felt responsible about what it was that we were contributing down there.

We are going back again next week – this is all really exciting for us. We do most of our work in high-end single-family residential custom architecture. This is a larger scale and a totally different opportunity so we just embraced it. Construction should start in the spring of next year.

Jill: So much as I hate to do this, I have to ask: What was it like working with Brad Pitt?

Andrew: He was really nice and seemed to know what he was talking about, honestly. A lot of architects are skeptical about Brad Pitt’s sudden interest in architecture – but I have to tell you that from what we could tell, he seems pretty devoted to the cause of sustainable design, and of course the celebrity interest just helps elevate interest in our project, and we can’t argue with that!

+ Workshop APD + Global Green