Students volunteer in New Orleans

A group from Portland State University’s architecture department traveled to New Orleans for five days over spring break, volunteering and developing designs to help rebuild the still devastated area.

A group from Portland State University’s architecture department traveled to New Orleans for five days over spring break, volunteering and developing designs to help rebuild the still devastated area.

“It’s hard to believe that the city remains in need of such help in so many areas, infrastructure, housing, job creation and health care,” said Professor Rudy Barton, chair of the PSU Department of Architecture.

For their spring design studio, 14 students will develop a design for a key site on Canal Street in New Orleans. The students will design a building that places housing over retail institutions, such as the Museum Place building with Safeway underneath on Southwest 10th and Jefferson in Portland or the Broadway Housing Building near PSU.

“We hope to share some of Portland’s success stories with similar buildings,” said Barton.

This model will allow grocery stores to begin supporting the community again, according to Barton. Barton said that most major grocery providers have pulled their businesses out of New Orleans.

“It’s difficult to find a place to buy groceries,” Barton said.

Citizens will be less dependent on automobiles, Barton said, because they will live right above the store. The site is also located on a major streetcar line, allowing easy access for those who live in other areas.

“Our work will focus on shelter and food, since there is still a need to provide both,” said Barton.

Student Brandy Phillips said the trip was quite an experience. Phillips said the people are very passionate about life and motivated to rebuild.

“The culture of the city is quite amazing,” Phillips said.

Phillips grew up in Texas and used to visit New Orleans regularly.

“It’s very different, there’s a huge amount of devastation,” Phillips said. “It feels like sort of a ghost town.”

Students funded nearly half of the cost of the trip, which totaled about $9,000 according to Barton. Additional funding was provided from several architectural firms in Portland, including TVA Architects, GBD Architects, SRG partnership, Thomas Hacker Architects and YGH Architects.

The students volunteered for two days with the Alliance for Alternative Energy (AAE), a non-profit organization working with low-income residents to reduce energy costs in rebuilding their homes.

Although their studies focused on the Canal Street site, the students also designed a new headquarters for the AAE. Designs for the headquarters include an eco-roof, a feature of several buildings here at PSU, an eco-park, where residents can have a collaborative garden, a resource center for rebuilding and a small bio-diesel production facility.

According to Barton, these designs are already completed and have been submitted to the AAE. The AAE will begin construction in the next few months.

The trip to New Orleans was a departure from the usual spring design studios in the Department of Architecture. According to Barton, the studios usually focus on sites within Portland.

Barton wanted to get the students out of Portland and expose them to a different design context. Barton said he decided on New Orleans because he had an understanding of the area’s culture.

Barton lived in New Orleans for about six years, where he attended college at Tulane University.

“We decided that this was a great opportunity for the students–I wanted the students to be more invested,” Barton said.

The trip was originally part of Mercy Corps Flight of Friendship to New Orleans, a volunteer effort that involved many Oregonians. The work with the AAE developed later, Barton said, when they approached PSU for help because of the reputation PSU has in sustainable development practices.

“Portland is really far ahead as far as sustainability goes,” Barton said.

The AAE and many other rebuilding efforts want to focus on sustainability in rebuilding New Orleans, Barton said. Reducing dependence on automobiles by localizing jobs and reducing energy costs with “green building” are key elements in this cause, he said.

“Green strategy: a lot of people think that’s something that can work,” Barton said.

The student’s design studies will be presented in June in the Department of Architecture.

Barton said he hopes that the designs for the Canal Street site can be presented to the city of New Orleans and built in the future. It may not yet be possible, he said.

“It comes down to technology and dollars–it’s almost a third-world situation,” Barton said, adding that communication with the city from such a distance may be difficult and may delay the presentation of the designs.

Barton said that if money is available, he would like to send some students back to New Orleans in June.