Multifamily Housing Competition, 2009

Collaborators: Hiroshi Jacobs


This project is a response to the design problem posed in the 2006 Tulane School of Architecture / Architectural Record “High Density on the High Ground” design competition. The competition brief asked entrants to “explore the issues of greater housing density near the city/river boundary, to generate innovative proposals for integrating new development within delicate 19th century urban fabric”, and to “promote social and economic equity”. The program called for a range of 160 mixed-income housing units ranging from one to three bedrooms, 15,000-30,000 SF of retail, community facilities, and a city center for the Tulane University School of Architecture.

This proposal focuses on two distinct yet related ideas – permanence & mobility – which are woven together as the driving force behind the design. Metaphorically, the term “permanence” refers to the re-development of New Orleans as a historically viable city and to the prominent use of unique local building strategies, perpetuating the architectural spirit of New Orleans. At a completely different scale, it also refers to the sense of permanence necessary for healthy social development in children. The term “mobility” refers to the socio-economic “upward mobility” hopefully fostered by mixed-income developments such as this. As the community is infused with various income levels, the hope is that expectations will push student development and school improvement, therby providing the next generation with more options. The proposal seeks to realize these terms both practically and phenomenologicaly through the real and perceived protection/longevity offered by the facade system, contextually respectful design, and sustainable building practices.

The site design for this proposal is taken from a common streetscape condition in New Orleans where two or more unparallel streets collide, creating triangular and trapezoidal shaped street blocks. It also satisfies the need for accommodation of automobiles & public transportation, encouraging more people to visit the development, shop, and engage the community. The diagonal drive allows more parallel parking along the retail frontage while pushing back the taller portions of the development, which lessens the scale shock from the existing smaller structures across Chartres Street. The diagonal also creates an outdoor public space, increased retail frontage, and an area for a bus stop. A street level parking garage is located beneath the common courtyard, pushing the ground plane within the development to the second level. Access to the common courtyard is via a sloping ground plane from street level to the second level. which should evoke a familiar feeling for anyone who has ever lived in New Orleans – the experience of ascending the city’s public spaces known as the levees.

The facade structure can be described as a system of operable hurricane shutters constructed of perforated metal. These hurricane shutters elaborate on the time honored vernacular practice of protecting windows and expands the scope of protection while creating space. When closed, the facade provides protection from the storm as well as private outdoor space in the form of another vernacular essential, the porch. The operable shutter-like facade system not only helps create private outdoor porches for inhabitants, but it also allows for a complete transformation of the facade on a daily basis. Shutters can be opened and closed independently, effectively displaying the collective and individual moods of the inhabitants. The sectional shape of the buildings is a response to the scale of the immediate context. Taller portions of the development are located closer to the Rice Mills building on the west side of the site and the roof gradually slopes down toward the smaller scale industrial buildings on the east side. The sloping roof and height difference between north and south buildings also provide full exposure to southern sunlight for the roof mounted solar collectors and allow more of the housing units to have views of the river.