New Orleans - A Drowning Fortress

The city of New Orleans, built on the Mississippi delta, has constantly protected itself against the sur- rounding water context (wetlands, lake, and river). This urban confrontation to the natural environment has repeatedly shown weaknesses during extreme conditions such as floods and hurricanes. Levees, drainage canals and pumping stations, elaborated as the main flood protection system, have therefore become indispensable elements for the city’s survival. These infra- structures contributed to the city’s development and continue to strongly influence today’s inner-urban conditions. The metropolis is enclosed in its defined limits, evolving within its own frame.

Since Hurricane Katrina, which flooded and paralyzed a significant part of the urban system, New Orleans’ long-standing issues gained international attention. Questions can now be raised about the coherence of such a city structure.

How can New Orleans develop itself in a sustainable way taking into consideration the existing tension be- tween urban and natural environment? How can water be revalued in such a fragile context? And how would it affect the New Orleans social scene, urbanism and architecture?

Our research questions the material and immaterial relation to water in New Orleans, starting from an hypothesis in which natural conditions could significantly be reintegrated in the urban context. The theo- retical analysis process of such a built area also features inherently, in a more general context, a re-evaluation of water in coastal cities towards global warming and potential rise of sea levels.

The utterance of this work is organized around various enunciative bodies, each bearing on different approaches and topics, closely related to the degree of subjectivity they display. Our intent was to maintain observation and detachment as long as possible— especially during our ten days on site study—in order to have a deep understanding of the object of our inquiry. Personal investment and subjective interpretations came naturally to different extents in the late crystallization of this research.

The work takes the form of a collection of three booklets and one in situ short film, without any specific order in their consultation. Each element refers and responds to the basic hypothesis to deliver its own conclusion. The aim of this study is to lead to an individual reflection of further implicit interrogations, the unformulated outcome being wider that the simple sum of the separate enquiries.