March 4, 2007

From the Ground on Up: Architecture for Humanity takes on Leadership in Biloxi Mississippi

Where does architecture cross the line from benefiting only those who can afford its luxury and into the realm of serving those in poverty? While some help the families effected by Katrina in the form of money, medical aid, or food, Architecture for Humanity is commit ed to helping those in need with their greatest tool: design. From re-designing public buildings to community housing, Architecture for Humanity has reached out to offering its expertise where it is needed, and has many projects in progress as well as completed. The organization is a conglomerate of many participating firms all of which are dedicated to offering the most affordable, useful, and sustainable solutions possible. The projects which the initiative encompasses include a vast number of design issues including temporary structures, mobile dwellings, and pre-fabrication.

This pooling of resources represents a shift in the way society understands the true potential of design. Historically, architecture's primary purpose in the public realm has been to create national identity in order to compete with other countries. The largest surges in architectural innovation have been fueled by national pride, and have benefited not any given individual, but rather the invisible entity we call a country a state, a province, or what have you. With increasing global environmental hazards, will architects and planners rise to the challenge of aiding those who have been disaster stricken? Architecture for Humanity shows positive signs of this effort becoming more and more of a reality.

The benefits to in which design has on these areas becomes clear in cases such as the Biloxi Model Home Program. In this program, architects, engineers and other design professionals meet face to face with Katrina victims to discuss simple questions regarding rebuilding on hurricane torn property. The House Fair, which was set up by Architecture for Humanity gives Katrina victims the benefit of choosing from a variety of architects by seeing their designs first hand.

One of these designs, by Studio/Gang Architects, fully represents the imaginative and functional potential of design in areas such as Biloxi Mississippi. The design, (shown in two images above) takes its insiration from the pine cone, where scales open and close to dispense fertilized seeds to be deposited back into the ground. The house, in a similar fashion, is fully breathable to maximize natural breezeways, reducing the need for energy consuming air conditioning, while at the same time being fully modifiable by the inhabitants. Also, patio spaces embrace the lifestyle of the people who may enjoy a peaceful gathering space. The design also incorporates pre-fabricated trusses which allow significant structure to the raised platform of the house. Underneath, ample storage space is available, and also the platform prevents water damage to the interior of the building in case of future flooding.

Other designs, such as the Blox House by Bret Zamore Design incorporates basic issues of raising the house above flood levels. The design concentrates on affordability and adaptability. By making the construction method simple, requiring "little cutting" the house can be rapidly made and added on to. Through its configuration in plan, the Blox House can be modulated to serve many occupants who wish to live in the same immediate dwelling, while at the same time offers a simple livable aesthetic.

With the staggering amount of loss of property (shown at right, click to enlarge), designs such as these represent a shining light for many residents of Bioxi. The House fair is most applicable to those families who have lost their homes completely, however, to those who have faced over 50% structural damage, it may be the case to start over again with the design of a new home. It is truly inspirational to see architects of such expertise working with families to better their lives. With the help of organizations such as Architecture for Humanity, these will once again be able to enjoy their home town of Biloxi, Mississippi once again.