Architects in Exile

Chris Palmeri

Allen Eskew is among a small group of New Orleans architects who have been wrestling for years with how to create hurricane-resistant homes in coastal communities. He sees Katrina as an opportunity to put some of those ideas to work. “Just rebuilding the stuff we had before would be a tragedy on top of a tragedy,” he says. He’s been designing homes that rise 17 to 20 feet in the air on concrete pilings that are disguised by screens or breakaway composite materials. That way water could flow underneath the home but not damage the living space on the second and third floors. This would be a big switch from the homes on pilings that already exist in coastal areas, many of which look like trailer homes on stilts with boats parked underneath. “Not very gracious,” he says. The ground floor would be a garage or storage area. Electrical wiring would begin on the second floor and special valves would prevent sewage from backing upstairs. Such homes would qualify for private flood insurance. He says many people will choose to rebuild this way, because they’ll have to. “I was in New Orleans on Sunday. I saw houses with water up above their roof. With the amount of contamination that will result from this toxic soup that these houses will sit in for upwards of a month, people will not have a choice.” Other public buildings will have to be rebuilt with the same “hardened” design. Eskew says about half of his 22 person firm has relocated to downtown Baton Rouge and he’s seeing many architects from other firms on the street and in the Internet cafes they need to use for connections. “We’re a community of Bedouin tribesmen,” he says.

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