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New Orleans and gulf coast should
architect Clayton says
Texas A&M University architecture professor Mark Clayton is
emphatic in his belief that New Orleans should be rebuilt-and he
has credentials to back up his contention.|
"New Orleans and the stretch of river from Baton Rouge to
the Gulf of Mexico constitute the world's fourth-largest port,
and the foremost
port in terms of bulk cargo handling," says Clayton, who is
also executive associate dean of the College of Architecture. "It
just doesn't make good economic sense not to restore it.
"But more than that, some authors have called the city a work
of art," he continued. "You wouldn't discard a Rembrandt
just because it got water damaged, would you?"
Clayton, who was born in New Orleans, points out that the city
shares its vulnerability to hurricane damage with others along
the Gulf Coast from Brownsville to Houston to Miami.
"The Gulf Coast is the import-export engine of the entire
United States," Clayton says. "You can't close these cities
just because they may be vulnerable to future hurricanes. Our challenge
is to figure out how we can co-exist with the environment in that
region. Our successful response to that challenge is vital to the
health of the country as a whole."
Texas A&M University's College of Architecture already has
played an important part in responding to damage from Hurricane
Katrina, mobilizing resources to produce coherent strategies and
response plans soon after the waters receded from New Orleans.
The college hosts the Hazard Reduction and Recovery Center (HRRC),
which is one of the premier disaster relief research centers in
the world. During the aftermath of Katrina, HRRC staff provided
extensive commentary and analysis to relief agencies as well as
to the press. Many of the warnings provided by HRRC researchers
in past years were proven all too prescient, Clayton adds.
Clayton is adamant that New Orleans should be rebuilt, but he agrees
the question of how to do so requires expertise combined with creative
thinking. He points out that some of the nearly 300-year-old parts
of the city, such as the French Quarter and Bourbon Street, originally
were situated on higher ground, so they did not flood during Hurricane
Katrina. But other areas, like the Ninth Ward Lakeview, and New
Orleans East, were constructed at lower elevations when the city
expanded into the Mississippi River flood plain during the 20th
"Experts are asking how or to what extent buildings in such
low, flood-prone areas should be rebuilt," Clayton says. "The
Ninth Ward was home to many original, indigenous architectural
forms such as shotgun, double-shotgun and camel-back houses and
Creole cottages. The very simplicity of construction of these types
of dwellings may make their restoration feasible. Originally made
of wood and plaster, reconstruction can begin with drying out,
which is less possible for houses comprising more modern materials
like sheetrock or insulation.
"Newer homes with these materials can hold moisture, fostering
mold and necessitating their demolition," he continued. "Of
course, I am speculating, but given the energy and determination
of many New Orleans natives, I think they may opt to invest the
time and hard work necessary to restore large areas of the city."
Clayton believes that such restoration could be aided by photographs
and historical drawings of the city.
"Many of the oldest parts of New Orleans are well documented,
because in the 19th century, artists were hired to make watercolor
of buildings for tax purposes," he says. "New technologies
such as GIS could help us construct 3-D maps to facilitate restoration.
There are precedents for such massive restoration and rebuilding
efforts, such as in Munich after World War II. Faced with destruction
of most of the city, the German people decided to use photographs
and historical documents to rebuild many of its prominent buildings."
Clayton said he also believes that those who take on the project
of restoring New Orleans could learn valuable lessons from construction
designs favored by the early settlers of the area.
"Many of the 19th century buildings along the Mississippi
were raised above flood level, with living quarters located on
the second floor," Clayton
says. "The large hipped roofs of many of these structure also
have been found to be the least likely to lift off in high winds."
"I am convinced New Orleans can be put back together," he adds, "but
we will have to make some hard judgments as to what buildings can
A collection of white papers produced on the Hurricane Katrina
disaster and restoration solutions can be accessed at http://archone.tamu.edu/katrina/