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Architects in Exile

Posted by: Chris Palmeri on September 15, 2005

Allen Eskew is among a small group of New Orleans architects who have been wrestling for years with how to create hurricane-resistant homes in coastal communities. He sees Katrina as an opportunity to put some of those ideas to work. “Just rebuilding the stuff we had before would be a tragedy on top of a tragedy,” he says. He’s been designing homes that rise 17 to 20 feet in the air on concrete pilings that are disguised by screens or breakaway composite materials. That way water could flow underneath the home but not damage the living space on the second and third floors. This would be a big switch from the homes on pilings that already exist in coastal areas, many of which look like trailer homes on stilts with boats parked underneath. “Not very gracious,” he says. The ground floor would be a garage or storage area. Electrical wiring would begin on the second floor and special valves would prevent sewage from backing upstairs. Such homes would qualify for private flood insurance. He says many people will choose to rebuild this way, because they’ll have to. “I was in New Orleans on Sunday. I saw houses with water up above their roof. With the amount of contamination that will result from this toxic soup that these houses will sit in for upwards of a month, people will not have a choice.” Other public buildings will have to be rebuilt with the same “hardened” design. Eskew says about half of his 22 person firm has relocated to downtown Baton Rouge and he’s seeing many architects from other firms on the street and in the Internet cafes they need to use for connections. “We’re a community of Bedouin tribesmen,” he says.

Reader Comments

Kristopher WHite

September 15, 2005 7:58 PM

I agree completely with Allen's arugments for new types of construcion but would like to take it a step further. As tragic as the hurricane was, it is an unparralled chance to rebuild a major American city from scratch.

We should be looking at new innovative urban designs to reduce sprawl, enhance environment and increase access to public transportation! Of course, all this depends on the federal government actually funding and building levees and floodwalls that are designed for category 5 hurricanes.


September 15, 2005 10:39 PM

Very interesting concept. I'm curious to know about the purchase, operating and maintenance costs of the elevators for the elderly and disabled. Are they less expensive and more reliable now? Thank you, kelly

Rita Polit

September 16, 2005 5:39 PM

Thank you for your honesty and integrity, as they are the cornerstone of the real estate business as well.

We have seen and heard a great deal in the wake of Katrina and some of it is discouraging. People like you renew my faith in the world.

As a real estate agent and consultant in South Florida, I know all too well the devastation hurricanes evoke.

Build them stronger and tougher BRAVO!

Rita Polit

Ron Sanders

October 4, 2005 9:32 PM

Glad to read that some people are thinking in new directions for rebuilding New Orleans. Our company has developed a new method of construction that can withstand 300mph winds and we are seeking architects, developers, contractors, and realtors who can help us implement this new way of building.

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BusinessWeek editors Chris Palmeri, Prashant Gopal and Peter Coy chronicle the highs and lows of the housing and mortgage markets on their Hot Property blog. In print and online, the Hot Property team first wrote about the potential downside of lenders pushing riskier, "option ARM" mortgages and the rise in mortgage fraud back in 2005—well ahead of many other media outlets. In 2008, Hot Property bloggers finished #1 in a ranking of the world's top 100 "most powerful property people" by the British real estate website Global edge. Hot Property was named among the 25 most influential real estate blogs of 2007 by Inman News.

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