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Glorious planning!

Pitt announced the Make It Right project to great fanfare in 2006. The plan was to hire a cast of famous architects to build flashy, environmentally-sustainable homes at the epicenter of Hurricane Katrina’s catastrophic flooding, and sell them to flood victims below cost – starting at $150,000. The Hollywood icon boasted that the houses were “a proof-of-concept for low-income green building nationally, maybe even worldwide”.

But that dream quickly fizzled. The eye-catching architecture was ill-suited to the torrential rainfalls of New Orleans: some of the houses had flat roofs and were missing basic features like rain gutters, overhangs, covered beams, and waterproof paint – causing mold, leaks and rot soon after they were built.

There’s often good reason why vernacular architecture is as it is…..a century or three of experience perhaps….

23 thoughts on “Glorious planning!”

  1. I think the lesson here is only buy your hideously ugly modern architecture houses from REPUTABLE Hollywood celebrities such as Sean Penn.

  2. Yes

    While conducting hurricane relief in St Kitts I remember talking to a local chap

    Q:What happened to your house?

    A: Its over there (points to pile of galvanised sheeting)

    Q: Why don’t you build it out of something more substantial?

    A: I can build it myself out of galvanised sheeting, virtually no tools or expertise required and spare sheet easy to get hold of and cheap. Plus its the Caribbean, I only need rain shelter

    Q: But won’t the next hurricane blow it down?

    A: Yes, in fact this is the third time. I can’t afford a hurricane-proof house and its easier to simply rebuild it as we get a hurricane every ten years or so

    As you say, there is a reason for the venacular

  3. There’s often good reason why vernacular architecture is as it is…..
    Because evolution in action. Given the constraints of materials & techniques available that was the optimum solution to the need. All the non-optimum solutions have been discarded along the way.
    That doesn’t mean that design should be in stasis. Evolution continues. New materials. New techniques. But you need an understanding of why all those non-optimum solutions were discarded or you’re just going to repeat past mistakes.
    And it’s pretty rare to find an architect with the experience in materials & techniques to produce new optimum designs. Architecture isn’t treated as a practical trade in that way.

  4. If you want to get decent architecture you probably need to go back to architecture being a craft rather than a profession. So you’re not going to get competent architects much younger than in their 40s. It wouldn’t be something to be learned at college but picked up on-the-job, learned from those who’ve already been through the process.

  5. Decades ago, me at a party. Stranger: “What do you do?” Me: “At the moment mainly mathematical modelling.” And so I got a consulting job to appraise the design of blocks of flats that his firm was going to erect in Libya.

    My calculations showed that the design was horribly impractical because, to put it shortly, it ignored two of the principles of Moorish architecture. (i) Arrange that the walls are shaded. (ii) Use walls structured so that the highest afternoon temperatures arrive on the inside surface only after a 12 hour, or 36 hour, delay. On no account build walls that will impose a 24 hour delay. (The Raj had put up a building in New Delhi with that unfortunate feature.)

    Why had a large, rich, famous construction firm not done the sums themselves? God knows, but at least someone inside the firm had had the sense to entertain reservations.

    By the way, where does Arabic/Moorish architecture come from? Not from the Arabian desert, obvs. Persia? The Roman Empire, Eastern or Western? Elsewhere?

  6. where does Arabic/Moorish architecture come from? Not from the Arabian desert, obvs. Persia?

    My guess would be Persia, the Sassanids used many decorative and structural forms still seen in Moorish/Islamic design. Tho they themselves inherited from the Achaemenids, whose buildings are somewhat Greek looking (the Greeks might’ve borrowed from them, or perhaps they both borrowed style points from Kemet).

    Not sure why semi-literate draughtsmen using papyrus and hand tools were able to erect more attractive and useful structures than modern day architects with every electronic and mechanical gizmo at their disposal tho. Vitruvius wept.

  7. By the way, where does Arabic/Moorish architecture come from? Not from the Arabian desert, obvs. Persia? The Roman Empire, Eastern or Western? Elsewhere?
    Avoid the ‘heads-on-coins’ view of history. Rulers are generally ignorant thugs with big swords with similar cronies to help them. That’s the basic qualification needed to be a ruler. The people responsible for civilisations are all the people who can do the things civilisation needs.
    So as far as Arabic/Moorish architecture’s concerned, there have been artisans practising their crafts on the N.African coast & Iberia since the Cathaginians & before. They’re still doing so. Same applies to Rome, Greece, Persia, whatever. There’s a certain amount of interchange of skills & ideas continually going on between all of them. So Arabic/Moorish architecture is the artisans’ answer to the needs they were fulfilling at the time. It’s not particularly Arabic or Moorish. They were just the ignorant thugs with the swords around at the time.

  8. A similar story was an eco school built in the UK, somewhere in the South West I think. Made out of very rustic natural materials, probably some solar panels and a windmill involved, I don’t remember the exact details. It was praised by the BBC when it opened. The buildings were unusable from the word go and it was demolished a year or two later. Nothing from the BBC about that of course.

  9. No doubt the ‘award winning architect’ went on to bigger & ‘better’ (& even better paid) things.

  10. You have to wonder how one gets to be a “famous architect” without knowing that pitched roofs, gutters, overhangs, and waterproof paint might be a good idea on a job where you’re replacing buildings destroyed by storms.

    Mind you, that said, you’d think that sort of thing would be part of the building code in somewhere like Louisiana.

    “By the way, where does Arabic/Moorish architecture come from? Not from the Arabian desert, obvs. Persia? The Roman Empire, Eastern or Western? Elsewhere?”

    Much of what we think of as distinctively Moorish is actually Visigothic. They knocked about in Spain between the Romans and the Moors.

  11. Is “Visigoth” the Roman name for them? If so we should presumably pronounce it Weesseegoth.
    As in Wenee, Weedee, Weessee.

  12. Architects in ancient times were not necessarily highly competent. Some must have been for their buildings to have survived, but there may have been many more who were incompetent whose buildings have fallen down so we don’t know of them. Survivorship bias can be quite strong.

  13. Bloke in Spain,

    “If you want to get decent architecture you probably need to go back to architecture being a craft rather than a profession.”

    There are lots of “craft” architects. Like the people who design a gym for Nuffield or a McDonalds. But we don’t celebrate that which matters with architecture, which is primarily the function (does the McDonalds branch facilitate serving up lots of Big Macs, do people have a clean, dry place to eat). Buildings are celebrated solely as objets d’art.

  14. Visigoths were Goths from the West; Ostragoths were Goths from the East. Wore black and used too much eye make-up. Presumably.

  15. Good point, Pcar. Crossed my mind, too, although it was that which made me think of the building code: we’re very hot on what’s known as “Building Control” in Scotland. Blocks of flats even have to be tested for soundproofing. (Or used to; I haven’t actually seen it done in years.)

    Then again, look who built it. Quis custodet ipsos custodes?

  16. Steve August 18, 2022 at 11:30 am
    “Not sure why semi-literate draughtsmen using papyrus and hand tools were able to erect more attractive and useful structures than modern day architects with every electronic and mechanical gizmo at their disposal tho.”

    Because they had none of that. ‘Analogue people’ who lived in the real world, whereas today we inhabit a world of virtualisation, of theory without practice, invention without observation, thinking but not doing.

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