Sunday, January 06, 2008

Rebuilding the Gulf Coast Stronger




I have been wanting to write about this for over a year but had no idea of how to approach it. I have friends who were evacuated during Hurricane Katrina but they were lucky to live at a higher elevation and sustained minimal damage to their home when compared to those whose homes were flooded, submerged, or completely destroyed.

In October of 2005, the Mississippi Renewal Forum was created to respond to the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina and its massive loss of residents' homes. Here is a great article from Katrinacottages.com about the effort behind the creation of emergency hurricane resistant and affordable housing solutions for those people.

One of the assignments during the Forum was to “develop designs for affordable housing, which could be immediately put into place while respecting the place upon which it would be built”, in this case the architecture of the Gulf Coast states. It was that last part of the statement that impressed me.

The first design created from that forum was the beautiful, affordable, and historically sensitive Cusato Cottage designed by Marianne Cusato. The beauty of this design is that those needing quick housing could create an affordable, well-constructed, yet quickly built home that complies with the latest hurricane safety requirements. For her efforts, Ms. Cusato won the first Smithsonian's Cooper-Hewitt People's Design Award in 2006 for her Katrina cottage design.


It was a downsized version of the Mississippi coastal-style house, designed as an alternative to the FEMA trailer. Unlike the FEMA trailer, this cottage and other designs offered, are meant to be permanent structures and "are designed to withstand hurricanes, since we know that they will continue to occur," Cusato said.

FEMA trailer interior

Cusato cottage interior

Ms. Cusato started small; the original design was only 308 square feet*, but it was designed so that as these residents regained their lives, the cottages could be easily expanded, having possible additions already built into the plans. An example is the KC 612, "this 2-bedroom cottage with 1-bathroom starts at 612-sq.-ft. and can expand over time to a 3-bedroom, 2-bathroom 1,080-sq.-ft. house with a family room." The materials for the house average about $55 per sq. ft., so that the KC 612 house would cost $33,660, before labor costs.

The designs of Ms. Cusato, Andres Duany, Eric Moser, and others are available to everyone through Lowe's Katrina Cottage building plans. The eleven plans available from Lowe's range from a 544 square foot 2-bedroom to 1,807 square feet for a 5-bedroom cottage.

*According to this 11/06 New York Times article, Ms. Cusato actually lived in a 11 by 28 foot, 308 square foot apartment when she was designing the first cottage.

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