Design Build Recover


In the summer of 2005 a group of students undertook a design-build studio at Tulane under the direction of professor Doug Harmon. After a successful experience developing a thoughtful interpretation and transformation of a shotgun house, they were set to break ground on August 29, 2005. Just as the year 1492 is a deeply troubling date in the collective memory of Jews and other groups in Spain and beyond - and for Native-Americans in the “New World”; as well - certainly August 29 will always register in the minds of New Orleanians beyond anything that most outsiders can even begin to comprehend.

To quote Emilie Taylor*, one of the student team leaders:

“The fact that the storm brought an abrupt end to our Holy Ghost House ambitions was difficult for many of us to accept. But I have learned to think about that house as a grain of wheat. There is the parable about a grain of wheat that never becomes anything beyond just a simple, single grain of wheat until it dies. In death, it gives rise to much more. It’s a biblical parable that has much more serious implications and meaning than just building a house - but in my mind I take the liberty of borrowing the metaphor. It helps me make sense of things. I can understand the success of the URBANbuild program, GREENbuild, CITYbuild, and some of the City Center projects as some sort of hybrid fruit of this one original project. That’s a strong oversimplification, but it’s part of some constructed truth in my mind.”


It is humbling to arrive at the Tulane School of Architecture only three years after the storm. Students, faculty, and staff, along with a courageous and progressive university administration, have worked tirelessly and creatively toward recovery over these past thirty-six months. Many schools of architecture came to New Orleans and performed heroic work, as did citizens from across the country and world. Many were motivated by the dire situation and were perhaps trying the fill the vacuum produced by abject failure of the government at every level to address fundamental needs of citizens of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast before and after the catastrophe of Katrina.

Tulane students are designing and building with the highest aspirations of beauty, sustainability, and social justice. It is heartening to see how these students have combined their activism with the foundation of a strong design curriculum. Through their applied research and action, they are pushing and pulling the profession in ways that only tangible engagement can. They are doing so with care and love for the materiality of architecture, gaining inspiration from the tactile process of construction. All of this work is done with a sensitive awareness of tangible human experience. TSA students and faculty continue to build and design just as some of the nation’s most prominent architects and celebrities are engaging this city in exciting, inspiring, and sustained ways. There is an amazing spirit of collaboration and engagement at work.


  • Emilie Taylor is now senior program coordinator at the Tulane City Center, and she is teaching a course in material assemblies as an adjunct faculty member in the Tulane School of Architecture. Her quote comes from one of the first conversations I had with a student at Tulane - or in her case a recent alumna. She is like the grain of wheat personified. Emilie’s story of her experience and what it has meant to her was told in the over air-conditioned setting of my new office. Her story will always be etched in my memory.

Kenneth Schwartz, FAIA

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