interior architecture comprehensive studio | winter 2020-spring 2021 | instructor: kelsey buzzell | site: new orleans, louisiana

A hurricane shelter and a cultural resource hub to aid with post-crisis rebuilding and revitalization

The main question I am investigating, How can we as designers and activists create safe environments for those to shelter in community to positively impact the life of the person during and after a crisis, and that also emphasizes the importance of community support, rehabilitation and preservation of culture?

In New Orleans, there is currently a lack of resources for those who must shelter in place. During hurricane Katrina, people took shelter in random buildings, or makeshift shelters. There have been many cases of corruption or unnecessary force cause by the police during the storms against people looting grocery stores for food or seeking shelter and trespassing in buildings. All these injustices arise due to a lack of services and preparation for those who do not have the means to evacuate or those who chose not to.

There is also a huge deficiency in post-storm relief services. Rather than waiting on road home money, or support from FEMA and other federal government adjacencies, this local shelter can provide resources to the community. Some of the resources needed are law services to aid with owner rights and demolition issues, and a maker space to teach the community how rebuilding may be possible without the need to hire a contractor. The shelter will retain power during the normal power outages during storms and have other resources like potable water and food grown on site.

I want to also acknowledge that revitalization of low-income blighted communities can come along with detrimental effects of gentrification and displacement. Many in this community have already faced trauma, so how can we heal rather than further harm? How do we create spaces that benefit the community, while also supporting the economy and future development of this place?

The design solution 

The goal is to provide a sense of planning, security, and safety for those who are normally killed, displaced, or left with nothing during and after hurricanes. As climate change progresses, the need for storm shelters will only increase.

I lived through this not only natural disaster but social disaster that occurred in New Orleans. My father took shelter in the hospital for 6 months after the storm treating patients with little resources or support. I was displaced from my city for about a year. These are minor situations compared to what most faced. And the effects are still clearly visible in my city many years later. This project is a call to action to prepare for these crisis events to hopefully limit the devastation left behind. This project is also to honor the spirit and resilience of New Orleans.

The site I am choosing is a building that was destroyed and left abandoned due to hurricane Katrina. I want to give it a new life and purpose, while also honoring and remembering the building’s history.

Existing conditions: Site

The site I have chosen is in the Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans. This community identifies as 98% African American. In New Orleans this area of the city has been intentionally flooded more than once to avoid flooding other, more affluent, parts of the city. This neighborhood was ravaged by hurricane Katrina and has had the hardest time recovering. It was also the last area of the city to be drained after Hurricane Katrina. After the storm, many residents were left stranded as evacuating is expensive and often difficult. There was not only a lack of preparation but also lack of proper response.

My building is the Old Holy Cross School. It is historic and has been abandoned since Hurricane Katrina. This building is hugging the Mississippi River, surrounded by old growth oak trees, it has great views, its above sea level, and the historic context of the neighborhood is beautiful. The building is central to the community and is surrounded by single family housing.

Site Plan

My site is on 7 acres of land. I have taken a close look at improving the site to respond to storms and mitigate flooding. I plan to create a community garden as this neighborhood is a food desert, constructed wetlands to mitigate flooding, and allocate space for future development and emergency floating shelters.

Major Building Changes

The building has 4 levels, totaling to around 40,000 ft² and historic facades. The structure is a masonry brick exterior and typical wood frame construction on the interior. Major changes including closing off the mezzanine and properly programming stairs to create privacy for the upper levels.

The Program

The program is comprised of 4 major categories. Housing that addresses the serious need for a place for people to live. Essentials so that all basic needs are met during a crisis, resources for community support and rebuilding effort, and support to ensure building function and community needs are met.


This vase came to me through my donation free store. It symbolizes my building a forgotten, abandoned object passed on in hopes of revitalization. I attached floating nodes to the building/vase to evoke that even if there is a flood, my building will remain afloat and have ties and connection to the community surrounding it to support it and help it through the crisis.

Guiding Values

There are four principles that guide this project:

  1. Resilience to ground, stabilize and maintain roots.

2. Community as a trauma response and collective coping mechanism

3. Culture is evolution. Culture is revolution.

4. Reaching autonomy through self-sufficiency.


All materials sourced from a local salvage store, The Green Project, and from demolition projects or other storm damaged buildings to reduce the amount of building waste that goes into the landfill. The palette is simple and warm and allows the user to customize their space to their preference incorporating some of that New Orleans funk.

The colorful images of doors are derived from New Orleans homes that are bright and colorful, I want to continue this tradition and use this strategy to individualize each housing unit to give the users a sense of place keeping and ownership.

Level 1

On the ground floor there is a public market that spills outdoors as well to support the economy of this community and allow the opportunity for a small business or artists to operate here.

There is also a maker space and furniture, clothing and material restore on this level to aid in maintaining autonomy through self-sufficiency. On the left there is the lobby and community space. The adjacent spaces are resources including administration offices, counseling and consulting, this space has its own circulation to the next level where the medical clinic is. Whereas the central stair is private and for tenant use only.

Reflected Ceiling Plan

The reflected ceiling of the first floor provides wayfinding strategies while incorporating materials unique to New Orleans.

Entry Lobby

The lobby is at the entry and connects both sides of the market. It provides room for the community to socialize, play music, or rest from walking around the market.

Community Market

Within the market there are flexible market stalls. The market stall allows for various layouts. It is modular to allow the vendor to have control over changing their set up to best meet their needs. The cube units can be connected horizontally or stacked vertically to form larger units. They are also lightweight and can be easily moved to the fourth floor shelter during storms.

Free Store

The community free store provides a space to exchange, collect, or donate clothing, material, and household items. It reduces the need to continue the waste cycle and it also benefits the community, especially those who have lost items in floods.

Level 2

Moving on to the second level, this level is comprised of the medical clinic on the left that provides health services to the residents as well as the surrounding community. The rest of the floor is dedicated to housing.

Community Kitchen

The units on this floor are all co-housing and share common kitchen and living spaces.

Front Porch

Each housing unit has a front porch on the hallway that creates autonomy by the user being able to customize their space and it also functions well towards wayfinding. The front porch can serve as a free store, shared library, bike storage, etc.

Level 3

This entire level is dedicated to housing.

Unit Plans

There are 3 types of units in the building. The first is a studio and includes a loft space. During times of need the living space can serve as a bedroom and so can the lofted space. The second unit has an enclosed bedroom with a lofted sleep or storage space, and it is about twice the size of the studio. The third unit caters best to families, and it has an unenclosed room downstairs that can function as living space, an office, or additional sleeping space and it has two separate lofted spaces above that can function as storage sleep space, or office space.

The units are small, so I wanted to create unique storage solutions to allow the units to accommodate more people comfortably. Here you can see storage under the stair and understand the materiality and intention of the unit being representative of New Orleans.

Level 4

This level is an attic and does not have much access to natural light, so I have placed most of the utility and support spaces here, including elec./mech, laundry, pet grooming, and general storage. Most of the floor can function as common living space and during a crisis can be used as shelter space.

Emergency Shelter

The market stalls from level 1 can move here to avoid damage due to flooding and serve as shelter pods so that the building can accommodate more people comfortably during times of need. 

West-East Section

This is how the building functions during non-emergent times. Here you can see the connection between the community market, lobby and maker space and free store. You can also see the vertical connection between the mental health and resource center to the medical clinic above. You can see the connection of the front porches to one another and the central location of the community kitchens and living space to each neighborhood of units.

Crisis Averted!

The building and program have been designed so that the entire ground floor can accept water with little to no serious damage. During this time most of the ground floor furniture can be moved to level 4 and the market stalls themselves become shelter pods in the large open space on the fourth floor so that the building can take in people in need during an emergency. People can access the emergency clinic directly from a ramp outside to receive care. This project creates a safe environment for those to shelter in community and that also emphasizes the importance of community support, rehabilitation, and preservation of culture.