A new beginning for New Orleans

It’s hard to think of another natural disaster that enabled so many architects to volunteer their services as reconstruction helpers as Hurricane Katrina has done. The fruits of their labour have been visible for some time now, including the Special NO 9 House that Kieran Timberlake designed for the Lower 9th Ward.
It was only a matter of weeks after Katrina destroyed half of New Orleans that, amid considerable media attention, the aid organisation Make It Right was founded by Brad Pitt. The aim: to regenerate and rebuild the Lower 9th Ward, one of the poorest and worst-hit areas, and make it not only more attractive and hurricane-resistant, but also more sustainable and environmentally friendly. Over 25 renowned architects answered Pitt’s call for help and submitted designs for detached and semi-detached homes, including the likes of David Adjaye, Shigeru Ban, GRAFT, Morphosis and MVRDV.
Kieran Timberlake’s Special NO 9 House represents a prototype for mass-production that is more energy efficient and robust than other models commonly found in the US. While the maiden construction of this type of house in New Orleans may have been carried out with more traditional construction methods, subsequent models are expected to be pre-fabricated in factories to a considerable extent.
This would lead to better quality control and less waste during the construction phase. In addition, Timberlake wants his house to deliver a considerable improvement in terms of energy efficiency and sustainability in comparison to the average American home. This goal seems to have been realised: the Special NO 9 House has now received the “LEED Platinum” label – the highest certification awarded by US sustainability watchdog LEED.
Despite being based on a single pre-fabrication system, the Special NO 9 House allows a variety of floor plans and material options. There are two types of roof available: a flat one that can be used as a roof terrace; and a traditional gabled roof. All variations of floor plan are based on a linear, east-west axis. With the ground floor devoted purely to use as a garage and storage area, all living and sleeping areas are situated on the first floor, away from any potential flood waters. A longitudinal corridor separates the bathrooms and secondary rooms in the north from the living rooms and bedrooms in the south. By grouping the plumbed rooms together in a cluster (including the kitchen), costs can be saved and the flexibility of room use increased.
With shutters and a large roof overhang offering protection from the sun on the eastern and western sides of the house, the south-facing longitudinal facade boasts a “brise soleil” from a plant-covered lamella. Wherever possible, the architects have employed passive methods of keeping the house cool in the summer: in the north and the south, operable windows are set at different heights to allow air into the rooms; the ventilation holes are set in the ceiling, which rises up to 3.30 metres in places.

A 2,300-litre rain water cistern is integrated into the ground floor, which – according to the architects – during a normal rainfall can collect around two thirds of rain water from the roof. This water is then used for the garden area. At present, building regulations in the state of Louisiana do not allow rain water to be used within a building, but the sanitary installations have been also been designed to allow toilet flushing with rain water in the future.
Of course, the Special NO 9 House is not completely without mechanical heating and cooling systems, but the architects claim that it uses 65% less energy than the houses that are commonly found in the region at the moment. The construction process, too, was planned with efficiency in mind: although the first house to be built was put together completely on site, the timber supplier received a precisely calculated order list, delivering exactly the right sizes of wood. This resulted in considerably less wastage than is normally seen on US building sites.
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