September 14, 2007

Students, faculty will lend a hand in New Orleans

by Christi Mathis

(Editors: Note hometown names.)

CARBONDALE, Ill. — More than two years after Hurricane Katrina struck a devastating blow, some areas of the southern United States are still struggling to rebuild. Next week, students and faculty from Southern Illinois University Carbondale's School of Architecture will help with recovery and rebuilding efforts in one of the hardest-hit areas of New Orleans.


Media Advisory

Reporters, camera crews and photographers are welcome to contact assistant professor Michael D. Brazley or associate professor Robert H. Swenson before the group leaves for New Orleans at the School of Architecture by calling 618/453-3734 or emailing or While in New Orleans, Brazley may be reached at 618/559-5112.


Actually, SIUC has been involved with New Orleans prior to the hurricane. Architecture students in the senior ARC 451 Urban Design and Community Studio class were working on a master plan for the riverfront area in collaboration with a planning commission from the region. Then, Mother Nature changed everything.

Now, residents of the Holy Cross neighborhood and adjacent Lower Ninth Ward are trying to rebuild and SIUC students and faculty are continuing to lend their manpower and expertise. A group of 36 senior architecture students, accompanied by several faculty members, will be in New Orleans Sept. 19-23. Leading the effort are 11 students in the urban design studio class of Michael D. Brazley, assistant professor in the School of Architecture. Classes taught by Robert H. Swenson, associate professor, and Craig K. Anz, assistant professor, both with the School of Architecture, are going too. Other SIUC faculty and residents of Cairo, where Swenson's Urban Studio class is working this fall, will make the trip as well.

"On a smaller level, we'll be giving hands-on assistance helping people there install insulation in their homes," student Tommy Scott, from Plano, said.

In addition to installing radiant barrier insulation donated by the Alliance for Affordable Energy, they will work with local residents and planning groups to see how things have changed in the area since the storm and create plans to rejuvenate the area and its bayou.

Last year, students worked with the Holy Cross Neighborhood Association to complete some survey work to see exactly what exists on each parcel of land and drew up master plans for rebuilding. Now, they'll complete the historic Holy Cross area survey and revise the survey of the Lower Ninth Ward, which was under as much as 12 feet of floodwater when Katrina hit. They'll also present their plans to community members.

"Not much has happened except some cleanup in the last two years there," Swenson said. "There's been very little development."

In fact, Brazley said the Lower Ninth once had a population of about 20,000 people, but only about nine percent have returned since the hurricane.

Swenson said the Holy Cross neighborhood is a registered historic neighborhood and residents of the area believe it's "the one thing that potentially can really revitalize the area."

The group also will meet with the Archbishop of Canterbury and other high-ranking religious officials from the area on Sept. 22, at the invitation of the Diocese of Louisiana. Last year's group met with government officials from around the country and Swenson said while learning architecture, such meetings enable students to see the many factors that come into play with politics and life.

"This is real urban design," Brazley said. "It helps the community. We're happy to do this and it also benefits the students. We teach urban design language, general and specific principles and various types of physical designs in class and in the past we've created projects like a venue for the Olympics or something like that. But with this, the students get to learn with actual experience, interacting with the neighborhood people, working on a real project. We've also got an interactive Web site so people can see what the students are working on and give their input."

The Web page address is:

"I feel this project is important because we can see the people there as actual clients, see what they want," Scott said.

"You can do a project design and think it's great but the greatest reward is showing it to them and them saying they love it," said Kevin Ford, a student from Barlow, Ky. "As an architect, unless you've made the client happy, you've failed miserably."

Classmate Molly Moran, from Evergreen Park, said the students also prepared a large model of the area. Last year, the group took a smaller model but residents wanted something on a larger scale. She said the aerial view drawing will help them really visualize the area as it is now and plan redevelopment.

"These places are now going to have meaning to the students," Swenson said. "They won't be just names on a map."

Other members of Brazley's class are: Holly Kapsa, Arlington Heights; Emerson Stepp, Beecher City; Brett Barbour, Bloomington; Ryan Schmid, Hamilton; Mike Tuymer, Sandwich; Alan Knepp, Montgomery, Ind.; and Garret Lukens and Nick Bunte, from Vincennes, Ind.