I think of New Orleans and Phnom Penh as cousins – both French protectorates – built in deltas. The reintroduction of water to NoLA holds promise and design potential:
Waggonner & Ball Architects have been chosen to develop the water management strategy for Greater New Orleans. It was announced on March 21 that they were awarded the contract from Greater New Orleans, Inc. to develop the Comprehensive, Integrated, Sustainable Water Management System for the Greater New Orleans Region which includes the east banks of Jefferson, Orleans and St. Bernard Parishes.
Since Hurricane Katrina, Waggonner & Ball Architects have dedicated themselves to understanding, and addressing New Orleans’ layered water problems. The incredible amount of research and heart the local architects have put into this overwhelming issue has prepared them for the task of attacking it on a regional level. Their proposal is a composite of knowledge and experience, to boldly embrace water as an amenity of the delta city in order to keep New Orleans afloat.
Water surrounds and supports the crescent city, but within New Orleans it is barely visible. Instead it is pumped out through a sophisticated system developed in the early 20th century in order to clear out existing marshlands to allow for urban expansion. This incredible network of pumping stations, underground, and above ground canals works constantly to suck the water out of the city and deposit it into Lake Pontchartrain.
The system failed in 2005 when it was overwhelmed by Hurricane Katrina and it shows its weaknesses through regular flooding in New Orleans’ heavy rainfalls. The city depends on this system, and yet it is not enough even on a weekly basis in some neighborhoods. Waggonner & Ball Architects’ Water Management Strategy accepts the current system for what it is, and develops complimentary and long term solutions to fixing their city’s relationship with the water.
Waggoner & Ball Architects was founded by principals David Waggonner and Mac Ball. Their office has built public and private buildings, created master plans for local and international cities, and since 2005, participated in numerous planning initiatives to rehabilitate New Orleans. David Waggonner has taken the lead by forming connections with the Netherlands and other delta cities in order to learn from their own water systems.
In 2006 Waggonner began forming Dutch Dialogues with the Dutch Embassy in Washington DC and the American Planning Association. Between 2008 and 2010 Dutch Dialogues held three workshops where Dutch engineers, planners, designers, and soil experts visited New Orleans to develop and discuss potential solutions along with New Orleans’ own. The success of the Netherlands in sustaining their coastal cities serves as an example and inspiration for Waggonner & Ball. Though, they are also conscious of the unique challenges that the climate, and hurricanes, of New Orleans present.
Waggonner’s leadership has pushed the issue of the city’s water infrastructure into the academic realm as well. A series of studios offered at Washington University in St. Louis’ Undergraduate and Graduate Architecture School and the University of Toronto Masters of Landscape Architecture program study the many issues raised by Waggonner’s work. Initiated by Derek Hoeferlin, a former employee of Waggonner & Ball Architects, with Jane Wolff and Elise Shelley, the Gutter to Gulf studios work on understanding the water problem in its full context of infrastructure, geology, history, topography, politics, etc, to create possibilities for the future.
Waggonner & Ball Architects’ winning entry provides a new approach to New Orleans water management by reintroducing water into the city. Their designs focus on stormwater management with long term goals, as well as pilot projects and information to help shift the city’s fearful attitude toward water. They have proposed changes at many different scales, and draw heavily from the research done by Waggonner and Dutch Dialogues.
At all scales, Waggonner & Ball present the water as a positive addition to the city and to the neighborhood. Their plan for the city includes visible water storage to aid with soil subsidence and flooding. They have also proposed a system to circulate the water in New Orleans by linking canals and major infrastructure. At an even bigger scale, Waggonner & Ball will tackle New Orleans’ water districts and develop them based on the topography, not on the politics. The architects also hope that through pilot projects politicians and residents alike will take notice of the benefits of having water within the city. The full proposal presents a future New Orleans that is actually possible, and could only help the city to stabilize and grow.
Waggonner & Ball Architects lead a team of 30 contributors, which include universities, academics, landscape architects, hydraulic engineers, delta scientists, and more. They have 15 months to develop a final proposal for GNO, Inc. but understand this issue will require continued effort over a much longer period of time. They will continue working towards a healthy water management system to be in place in New Orleans and for the city to truly love and embrace the water as they have.
Architect: Waggonner & Ball Architects
Location: New Orleans, Louisiana, USA
Project Year: 2010-2012
Photographs: Waggonner & Ball Architects