Editor's Note: This is the second in a series of posts on the anniversary of the historic flood in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Check out the full series here.
Landon Anderson is a project manager for John C. Williams Architects, the designers behind Brad Pitt’s rebuilding efforts in the Lower 9. A Wilmington, N.C., native, Anderson has lived in New Orleans for 14 years. Here are his reflections on the recovery:
Q. How are local architects faring five years on?
A. There is some struggling, although I think relative to the national economy, New Orleans architecture firms have been able to survive somewhat bubble-like this year and last, from larger projects and monies from the Katrina era. It took maybe three years for the money to actually be spent. (Read more here) This won’t last. We will need the national economy to improve.
Q. What did you think would be different five years on that isn’t, and do you think it will ever be that way? Why?
A. I thought the infrastructure would have been improved not only for the city but for the levees. Some positive progress has occurred, but there is plenty of room for growth and improvement. Condo speculation was very rampant immediately after the storm, but didn’t actually happen in the numbers anticipated. (Read more about this here)
Q. What’s better than before?
A. Katrina in some ways made for a great opportunity to start over. The school board got cleared out and restarted. Many bad eggs from city agencies (excluding the Mayor), police, etc., got cleared out. Buildings that were in bad shape before were renovated, new construction was mostly performed in a more thoughtful way. Green architecture gained new ground. Housing conditions overall have improved and there is more of it.
Q. What lessons did Hurricane Katrina provide for architects in the city? Why?
A. How to survive as individuals and as business entities after a man-made catastrophe.
Q. Are clients more concerned with historical character or flood/wind-resistance when it comes to design? Why?
A. I would like to think most people understand that you can have both and are concerned with both. The historical buildings were typically built off the ground knowing that New Orleans is essentially a swamp and floods in a big rain. The French Quarter was built on the highest ground in the city. The first builders did these things for a reason. It’s the more modern slab-on-grade that has the issues. New construction in flood-prone areas needs to be elevated and there is obviously more of an understanding of that now. That being said, flooding in excess of 8-10-12 feet, we don’t need to design for those specifications because it is really should be only a catastrophic event.
Q. What’s the most important thing other architects should know about New Orleans five later?
A. There is a concerted effort to plan, build, and develop smarter and for the long-term. Architecture in New Orleans is headed this direction. Two projects our firm is proud of are Second Line Stages, and the Make It Right houses.
Q. How do you personally feel about the 5-year anniversary?
A. Mixed feelings, but I always try to maintain optimism. I can’t really believe that five years has passed so fast. It was very hard to live here in the 2 years after the storm. Simple things were a struggle. Things are improved, and I would like to think those tough times made me stronger, as well as those that stayed, and those that struggled afar and returned. My girlfriend during this period became my wife.
Download Anderson’s first-hand account of the first day after the storm here.
For more information, check out these resources:
10-minute video briefing on New Orleans' recovery from the Greater NO Community Data Center
Red Cross report on the recovery effort five years on
The Institute for Southern Studies' Obama, Katrina and human rights
Hang in There shot by Margot Carmichael Lester