Architecture students survey Katrina damage

Author: Tim Masterton


These are three things you might not expect to find these days in the areas most affected by Hurricane Katrina.The storms damage remains ever-present and overwhelming, as witnessed by 11 University of Notre Dame architecture students and two of their professors on a trip toMississippiearlier this semester.

But as surreal and incomprehensible as sites in the region can be, residents and architects are seizing the opportunity for growth, safety and identity in rebuilding efforts.

Philip Bess, accompanied by faculty colleague Al DeFrees, brought his fourth-year design studio students toBiloxiand DIberville (Bil-UH-ksee and Dee-EYE-ber-vil, as pronounced by the townshospitable residents) to survey the damage and consider designs for specific sites as towns and cities begin to plan and rebuild.

In the years since World War II, a kind of sprawl had seriously eroded the regions architectural character and distinctive sense of place, Bess said.So as buildings and homes are newly designed and built, reclaiming this character is one of many factors being considered.

For the city, this is an opportunity to add to their history and renew these places, bringing back some of the life that may have been robbed by age, tourism, traffic and bad planning in the past,said architecture student Jennifer Block.

Our students are looking at six specific sites and each student is going to design, in some detail, a building that fits his or her site,said Bess, director of the graduate program in architecture at Notre Dame.The owners most likely will not contact the students or ask them to be architects for the actual construction,but the ideas shown, when developed in much greater detail, will give the property owners an idea of what can be done,Bess said.

The idea is to present visually well-developed design ideas that can help them make good decisions about how to rebuild,he added.

And Notre Dame architecture students are more aware and prepared for this type of project than most others in the country.According to Bess, knowledge of traditional architecture, as well as community and urban design sensibility, are imbedded in the Notre Dame curriculum.

The students are operating under traditional and new urbanist guidelines and recommendations that have emerged since Katrina hit.

A large group of architects and urban designers have already done a comprehensive plan for all of theMississippiGulfCoastcities and we are following that while taking it into greater detail,said design studio student Jeff Pollack.In particular, we are following new FEMA guidelines that include elevating buildings in order to avoid flood damage.

CoastalMississippireceived the brunt of the storm, still evident today, even months after the hurricane hit.The students witnessed a constant string of debris and bare building slabs on their drives to and fromGulfportAirport.

Even standing in the middle of blocks of destroyed buildings it is hard to imagine a city once stood tall here and even harder to imagine what the future holds,Block said.

It looks like a war zone.

Bess traveled toMississippiin December to do preliminary planning for the trip and was stunned by many things, including onebuildinghe just had to show his students.

It was six or seven stories, longer than the length of a football field, just enormous, but it wasnt a building at all,Bess said.It was a casino barge that had been lifted from its site in the water and deposited on the other side of the road.

And while the storm may have displaced buildings and people, the resilient residents ofMississippiremain hopeful.Though occasionally hard to see, changes are taking place, businesses are opening back up, and Mississippians are spirited and enthusiastic about the future, as are the Notre Dame students about their project and the work still to be done by architects.

I think we all felt blessed to be there,Block said,to see what has happened and to see that what we do can make a difference for these people and cities.

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