Friday, December 30, 2005

Circle Jerk

It looks as if all parties involved in the design of New Orleans protections levees were negligent.

First Eustis Engineering averages out their test boring results over an area over a mile long, missing some esspecially weak soils in some spots. Any engineer knows you always design for the worst case scenario and then add a safety factor. Second, the design engineers used soil samples with a higher horizontal strength instead of weaker soils found at a lower level. The weaker soils would have required deeper piles. Third, when the New Orleans office of the Corps of Engineers reviewed the work, it accepted it without question. According to the forensic engineers, all these mistakes were fundemental errors that prudent engineers should not have made.

Lastly, the Vicksburg office the Corps of Engineers raised questions about the design of the levees but was assured by the New Orleans office the the engineering "judgements" were adequate. The Vicksburg office then dropped the issue without asking the New Orleans to provide data to back-up their assersions.

If this investigation continues to uncover more mismanagement like this, a few engineers may practice engineering for not much longer as well as the federal government might be paying huge damages as a result of quite a few law suites.


Tuesday, December 27, 2005


ThermaSAVE has developed a product and construction method to build what it claims to be disaster-proof. Its houses may be resistant to termites, Category 5 hurricane winds and earthquakes but can it keep out flood waters? I have my doubts.

If Mr.
Haddock is correct and a turnkey house can be built for $25,000 in about a week, these dwellings may have a future in New Orleans but first I have few questions:

1. Do the Category 5 hurricane wind resistance apply to the entire assembly or just the components? Strong walls are no good if the corners come apart.

2. Does the $25,000 estimate include the foundation and does it take into consideration New Orleans notoriously weak soils?

3. Can the design of the units accomodate New Orleans unique vernacular style of architecture?

4. Will
ThermaSAVE allow for different designers to be involved in the building process in order to avoid the cookie-cutter effect of other planned communities and shunned by so many New Orleans residents?

5. Do
ThermaSAVE panels accomodate future improvements in electrical wiring imbedded in insulated walls?

6. Is their product suited to resist moisture-intrusion as a result of being in a hot-humid climate?

I think architects and builders might want to take a look at this product to better determine if it is suited to our environment.

Monday, December 26, 2005


The New Orleans Recovery Commission has come up with a plan to facilitate the revitalization of the city's neighborhoods but it has come under some legitimate criticism. According to the plan, residents will be given a time period of one to three years to move back to their neighborhoods. After that time period has passed, a commission will determine whether certain neighborhoods will survive or be razed based on the population of that neighborhood.

The problem is as stated by Janet Howard of the Bureau of Governmental Research, it will be difficult to ask people to relocate knowing that their houses may be torn down. I think this effort will require some decision from above as to what the future extents of the city as well as citizens given some assurances that their houses will survive if it is inside the limits of the city to remain. After the pre-determined period of resettlement has passed, those dwellings that are not inhabited can either be condemned and razed or converted to some other used. This brings up one concern of ULI that's called the "jack-o-lantern" effect, whereby viable neighborhoods are surrounded by blighted neighborhoods. Let's not worry about the "jack-o-lantern" effect, just the blighted neighborhoods. We all need to realize that the revitalization will not be perfect, it just has to be workable.

I think people are trying too hard to solve all the problems at once. We need to come up with some kind of plan to move forward yet maintain a certain amount to flexibility in order to deal with lifes uncertaintees

Friday, December 16, 2005

I Want My Tax Breaks

Congress has passed a bill giving tax breaks to businesses in the area but, so far, no tax breaks to individuals as has been pushed by Rep. Bobby Jindal (R) LA.

I would like to see some action on the Katrina Economic Opportunity Act (HR 3987).

Myth Buster

Paul over at Wizbang makes a good point about New Orleans flooding not because it is below sea level (only parts of the city are), but because of what was essentially a dam break.

Read the whole thing.

For a elevation map of New Orleans, go here.

Twelve Steps

I. D. Reilly echos my thought exactly.

Who's On First, What's On Second, I Don't Know's On Third

The Orleans Levee Board had no idea that maintenance of the levees was its responsibility. In fact we find out that a local contractor had blocked access for the Corps of Engineers to the breach in the 17th St. Canal to do repairs.

Now I'm not a lawyer, but can charges be brought to the members of the Levee Board for misfeasance of office?

CORRECTION: It was not a contractor but a levee board official:

a report that the Army Corps of Engineers was blocked by a local levee official from trying to fill breaches in the London Avenue Canal.


Thursday, December 15, 2005

Pumps? What Pumps?

The taxpayers of this state paid $26 million so that this doesn't happen again. Well today we found that that money bought us exactly nothing as this same underpass flooded once again, only this time after only 1.6" of rain.

I hope our new levees perform better than our new "state-of-the-art" pumps.

UPDATE: It turns out that the pumps were not turned on till after the roadway flooded. Is this the kind of efficiency we can expect from government?

Levee or Levy

The federal government has now said they will rebuild the levee system around the New Orleans area.

Lets hope we get a real dike and not the same old levee with a brand new levy.

Another Reason to Hate the Ranch House

The Southern Pine Council is recommending that new houses be built with raised floors like they used to be constructed before the pre-war building boom. Needless to say, I never like the ranch house due to its penchant for being pedestrian and lack of craftsmanship.

The popularity of the ranch house is due in part because of the cost savings involved by substituting materials cost for labor cost as a result of the changing labor market immediately after World War II. Rule of thumb is that labor cost is twice that of materials cost. When developers needed to build thousands of housing units in a short period of time and for families on a limited budget, the ranch house built on a concrete slab became the construction method of choice for many decades. The ranch style further grew in popularity as it became a symbol of middle-class upward mobility and the raised cottage came to symbolize the old neighborhood.

Now we're seeing a resurgence of the raised cottage in upper-scaled neighborhoods with the resurgance of the popularity of the Craftsman style. Although I don't expect to see new Craftsman style developments popping up around the city, I do encourage developers to study the local Creole cottages. While not possessing the level of craftsmanship present in the Craftsman cottage, builders need to be sensitive to materials, proportions and details. With a little more work and attention to detail, these Creole cottages that were dammaged or destroyed by Hurrican Katrina can be recreated to bring back the charm that once existed in these New Orleans neighborhoods.

Dredging Up the Past

I'm glad to hear that others are promoting the idea of sensitivity to historic architecture when it comes to the rebuilding process.

What, Me, Flood?

John B. Vinturella is critical of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) for subsidizing people moving into flood prone areas. While I agree that the federal government shouldn't be in the business of insuring peoples' property - we have insurance companies for that - we should not blame the program for that. The blame goes squarely on Congress because it is they who created the program in the first place.

If flood insurance premiums are too expensive in some areas, maybe it is for a reason.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Building Codes, Smuilding Codes

The Gulf South needs to adopt better residential building codes. International Code Council has created the International Residential Code 2003 (IRC). I have a copy here that I refer to when doing residential projects. It is more stringent and comprehensive than CABO and therefore more costly than CABO but you get a better building.

Unfortunately, neither Louisiana, Mississippi nor Alabama have adopted this code. In fact, these are the only states that have not according to ArchitecureWeek. The State of Louisiana passed a bill in the previous (not so) special session to adopt a more stringent building code. As usual, Governor Kathleen "drew a" Blanco pushed to form a committee to discuss the building code.

For crying out loud. A better code is available and all the legislature has to do is to pass a law adopting this code to be enforced at a pre-determined date. That's what they did when the state adopted the International Building Code a couple of years ago. But then the state was under different management back then.

I hope that people don't get the impression that building a house to the IRC will make it immune to the kind of disaster we have due to Katrina and Rita. It is true that much of the damage sustained as a result of high winds would not have been incured with the IRC, but most of the damage was caused by storm surge and flooding. I'm not aware of any code that will make a building stand up to that.

The IRC will only mean fewer blue roofs in the future.

Symbolism over Substance? Give Me Substance

Publicity stunts. Like, oh yeah, thats really going to help rebuild the Gulf Coast.

A Ray of Sanity

Admiral Nimiz said of the Marines fighting on Iwo Jima :

"...uncommon valor was a common virtue."
On the filipside it can be said of the New Orleans City Coucil that "common sense is uncommon".

Now it appears that it takes a natural disaster of epic proportions to interject a little sanity into city government as District A Councilman Jay Batt is spearheading the effort to eliminate the residency requirement for NOPD officers.

Kudos to Councilman Batt.

UPDATE: The city council this afternoon voted to suspend the restriction for a period of three years for all city employees.

Build it Better, Build it Smaller

ULI and Joe Canizaro both propose shinking the footprint of the city of New Orleans but by different means. I favor Mr. Canizaro's method as it allows individuals to decide the future of the city instead of being imposed from above. Although I think ULI's recommendations have some merit and should not be dismissed outright, yet people should be allowed to decide for themselves what recommendations are valid and which one are not.

Needless to say, the footprint of New Orleans will be smaller regardless of anyone's idea of what it should be.

Cities grow naturally with the influence of people, they are not created from whole cloth.

Education or Exploitation?

Grey Line Tours is providing at three-hour-tour (sound familiar) for tourist to see the devistation first hand. The service is controversial as some people think Grey Line is exploiting other peoples' misery for profit. Others say it is a good way to educate people to amount of destruction done to our city.

I aggree with both. Yes Grey Line is making a profit and yes it is educating people to our plight. If you recall, our U.S. Senators regularly brought fellow Congressmen to the area (even Prince Charles and Camilla paid a visit) to see the damage for themselves. If our representatives can do it, why can't others?

From the Air

After three months of recovery, large swaths of the New Orleans area still remain uninhabited and with little or no sign of recovery.

You see the arial photos here.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Who's Your Daddy?

The Corps of Engineers today pulled several sheet piles from the 17th Street Canal levee to determine their exact dept. Previous examinations using sonar estimated that the piles were driven only 10' below sea level, 7' short of specified and documented depth.

Todays investigation only raises more questions and would appear to put more of the focus back on the Corps and the engineers. This would pretty much eliminate the contractor from responsibility since it was built to specifications. Now the question will be, why did the Corps approve such an inadequate structure.

Furthermore, this would seem to take local entities out of suspicion when it comes to laying blame for the failure. People in Washington need to look at themselves and not try to blame us for the flooding when deciding who should pay for rebuilding.

The Federal Government promised us a Cat 3 levee system but failed to deliver and now they want us to pay the price.

Monday, December 12, 2005

One House at a Time

U of Arkansas seems to understand the importance of the need for sensitivity to local customs when it comes to rebuilding New Orleans. Read the whole thing.

Hat tip

Eric Owen Moss Should Keep His Day Job

I don't know what the director of SCI-Arc means when he says

"...right-wing developer-speak masquerading as populism".
but he needs to stay out of political commentary because he clearly does not know what he is talking about. And neither do I.

On another note, it seems Mississippi has gotten the jump on us again when it comes to developing it's tourism industry. While Governor Kathleen "drew a" Blanco was still appointing political cronies to another commission, our neighbor's governor to the east had already conducted a commission made up of design and urban professional and citizens to create a blueprint for recovery. Louisiana's recovery commission is still typing it's dinner menu.

Signs of Life

NO City Park opens it Celebration (formerly Christmas) in the Oaks tonight signifying more life being breathed into to city.

Its Official, New Orleans is Now a Real Banana Republic

Our "esteemed" Governor Kathleen "drew a" Blanco has issued an executive order indefinitely postponing the mayoral election originally set for February 4. I guess we can all now refer to Mayor Nagin as Mayor for Life Nagin.

Of course, if Mayor for Life Nagin changes his party affiliation to Republican, I suppose we can expect new elections post haste.

UPDATE: C.B. Forgotson adds his two cents here.

Reed Kroloff Seems Understandably Suspicious

Whitney Gould of Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has a good article on Congress for the New Urbanism's (CNU) prescription for rebuilding New Orleans. I agree with Mr. Kroloff that communities are not imposed from without but grow from within. See my earlier post here.


"...I'm not sure that people in southern Mississippi, who are just trying to put their lives back together, are interested in building 'cutting edge,' iconic houses." says Mr. Kroloff.

Typical of dogooders around the globe, CNU may have some good ideas they but need to temper their enthusiam for activism and allow the people most affected by disaster to get on with their lives as best they can and do what needs to be done to bring back some sense of normallcy.

Ultimately it will be the people of the Gulf Coast who will decide what and how to rebuild for it is their community that will be re-created, not CNU's.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Central City

Central City is a neighborhood in New Orleans that is unlike any other in the city with its scaled down streets lined with brick storefronts that resemble 1940's Brooklyn. It has also suffered the effects of urban decay with the flight of it's original white - mostly Jewish - inhabitants but much the character of it's architecture still remains.

With an influx of job opportunities and the elimination of government paternalism, Central City and its residents may someday see a revival with the help of a little guidance.


Steven Bingler pretty much covers it.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Classic Military Assault by Hurricane Katrina has posted a map of the disaster that occured in New Orleans and St. Bernard Parish and it unfolded like a classic military assault.

First Katrina began with an attack on the city's east flank by assaulting a weak point in the defences via the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet (MR-GO) penetrating deep into enemy territory and disrupting it's lines of mobility in the Lower 9th Ward. Notice the funnel shaped configuration of the protection levees west of Lake Borne. Normally this funnelling effect would be a disadvantage for the attackers as the soldiers would be compacted and more easily
destroyed as opposed to they being spread out and minimizing the affect of fragmentation explosives. In this case, the storm surge acted more like a shaped-charge where the waves were confied to a smaller area and intensified. This is how the RPG's works that is used so widely by terrorist in Iraq.

Second, frontal assaults were made on New Orleans northern defences along Lake Ponchartrain, again pinpointing the city's weak points at the 17th Street Canal and the London Avenue Canal. Once these defences were breached, flood waters were again able to exploit the area's undefended interior and spread unabatted.

This reminds me of France's Maginot Line where in the Blitzkrieg of 1940, German forces concentrated her armies at points along the border where the defences were the weakest (namely the Ardennes Forest along the Belgian border). Once through the barrier, the Germans were able to disrupt French logistics and cause the collapse of the the French army.

Louisiana should look at history when deciding how to defend the state from hurricanes.

Friday, December 09, 2005

The Guv's Emails

Governor Blanco's staff's emails are available for viewing here.

Louisiana Recovery Authority Endorses LRRC’s Planning Principles

Based on the summary of the LRA's Planning principles, the rebuilding of New Orleans might have a bright future if the conferences recommendations are used a a guide. I do have one reservation though. Goal number five here strikes me as a precurser to a planned community where residents will be forced to live according to a template created by others. This is not what makes communities great. Greatness comes where communities grow organically as a result of thousands of individuals making thousands of decisions. This is what made New Orleans once great and will make it great once more.

Standing in the Way of Recovery

This bill by Rep. Richard Baker (R) might be a good solution to the housing dilema in the New Orleans area. Many people who were flooded find themselves in a Catch-22. Most damaged homes still have a mortgage but are uninhabitable or destroyed but with not enough or no insurance money to to do the repairs, homeowners are unable to move forward with rebuilding or pay off the mortgage. This plan would offer residents a way out.

Unfourtantely, the pols of Lousiana oppose any rebuilding plan that does not involve passing relief money through their hands. As usual, state politians are screwing their constituants in order to enrich themselves and their friends.

Should this bill become law - which I hope it does - I'm concerned that the character of many New Orleans neighborhoods will be lost and become "cookie-cutter" developments like Dallas or Atlanta. I would like to see some provision whereby the original owner has some say in the final design of the home (within the budetary constraints of the project) to ensure some diversity of design and retain some semblance of the original kalidescope of styles that once dotted these old New Orleans neighborhoods.

UPDATE: The U.S Congress pass a resolution approving Rep. Baker's bill. Now on the Senate. Good luck, it'll need it.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

More Levee Incompetance

If the design and construction of the protection levees were not adequate enough, we now learn that the New Orleans Sewerage and Water Board dredged the 17th Street Canal to improve drainage. Only problem is that the water flowed in wrong direction during Hurricane Katrina. Furthermore, the Corps of Engineers had oversight of the project and signed-off on the permit. And these people are supposed to be engineers?

It seems there were two scenarios going on with respect to the "improvements" to the canal. First the canal was dredge thereby reducing the base of the wall and the corps wanted to further increase capacity by raising the height of the wall. If any of you architects out there remember your structures courses, anytime you increase the length of a cantalever and reduce its support, you
greatly increase the stress on the member. That's exactly what the corps was doing.

For crying out loud, I could have told them that their plan was doomed and I only got C's in structures.


This is my first post of what I hope will be many concerning the rebuilding of my adopted hometown New Orleans.

As an architect this tragedy affords me the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play a part in the reconstruction of one of America's great cities. But this blog will not confine itself to subjects of architecture and construction alone as politics, culture, society and finiance have a large impact on our built environment and thus will be a topic of commenting.