New Orleans: Redesigning a Fragile Edge

ABSTRACT1. City Emerging from the WaterThe City of New Orleans is located at 90 degrees West longitude, and 30 degrees North latitude, 30 miles north of the mouth of the Mississippi River. New Orleans teeters on the edge of the continental shelf of North America, and, from a geological standpoint, what we know today as lower Louisiana was submerged under a huge embankment of the Gulf of Mexico. The Mississippi slowly, over a period of millions of years, began depositing silt along the ocean\’s bottom, until eventually land formations allowed for very selective geographies to be colonized. About 1 million years ago, the river had built up for itself a fragile delta extending out into the Gulf. It is in this interstitial space between the water and the land flanked by the Mississippi River and Lake Pontchartrain that the city of New Orleans exists. The objective of this studio is to delve into an investigation of the dynamically complex topography of New Orleans and the lower Mississippi River Basin and to determine alternate ways of colonizing the river\’s edge, particularly in a postindustrial era in which the existing programs and infrastructural spaces that sit along the river need to be revisited. 2. Between Water and Land: The PortThe primary focus of this studio is to observe New Orleans as a city with a precise operative nature and to use the outcome of such research as a primary source that would guide a series of interventions along the river\’s edge. In fact, the settlement of the city within this fluid system and its harbor potentials is what allowed for the development of the city. A key interest of the studio is to observe the river\’s obsolete postindustrial tracts of land and their potential transformation into a more adequate landscape that accommodates programs more attuned to the city\’s current economic engines: primarily, cultural / academic, leisure, tourism, and recreational facilities, among others. Using the \”RiverSphere\” area as a paradigmatic site, the studio will explore multiple alternatives that allow for this edge condition to accommodate a new center for bioenvironmental research accompanied by a wide array of cultural and recreational programs, as well as the introduction of more qualitative open space. 3. The City and Its Land: Fabrication of GroundThe studio will capitalize on the research and cartography prepared during the initial portion of the semester which will concentrate on two distinct lines of inquiry. The first one is the relationship between the river\’s \”constructed\” edge and the infrastructural domain that calibrates the border condition and allows for an extended area of human settlement below the natural water level. The second line deals with the relevance of a variety of morphed grid systems that structure/facilitate urban development. This analysis will be complemented by an investigation of more universal forms of riverfront development, in a very delicate topographical condition, drawing from many examples in North America, Asia, and Europe. Ultimately, the final goal for the studio students is to generate proposals that negotiate between the idiosyncrasies of the city\’s geographic location and the spatial requirements posed primarily by RiverSphere, as well as by other programs that are currently colonizing and activating riverfronts. Studio Structure:The studio will be composed of three distinct phases that will add up to a comprehensive project.a) Constructing SiteThe first portion of the studio will look at New Orleans and its extended context, and during this phase, the students will construct an understanding of the site by observing the city in its broader physical context – the Lower Mississippi Basin – and its different forms of colonization. Such forms have proffered a city that is continuously transforming a natural territory into an artifi