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Student Architects to Present Redesigns for New Orleans’ Claiborne Corridor

By Caitlin Reagan (reposted from AIA National website)

The 1956 Federal-Aid Highway Act and the Eisenhower Interstate Highway System transformed the fabric of every major American city in the late 1950s and 1960s. Entire city blocks and, in some cases, entire neighborhoods were razed to make way for the highways, on-ramps, and off-ramps, often in low-income areas and often displacing minority and disadvantaged communities. These communities continue to feel the repercussions, as the roads that destabilized them present larger regional transportation and maintenance challenges. The question for some cities: Should these roads be replaced, should they be removed, and what is in the best interests of neighborhoods ripe for revitalization?

This year, the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA) Annual Conference, held in New Orleans, is using the {C}{C}{C}2015 Barbara G. Laurie Student Design Competition to challenge student architects to redesign New Orleans’ Claiborne Corridor, an area that faces the same obstacles plaguing many American neighborhoods.

Spanning six to eight city blocks, Claiborne Avenue is home to many landmarks that are significant to both the city’s and the nation’s history; however it has been an area of much controversy. In the early 1900s, the avenue separated the racially segregated Storyville and Charity Hospital red-light neighborhoods from the more developed residential areas to the north. Over time, the neighborhood adjusted to the Interstate 10 (I-10) overpass, and Claiborne Avenue became the scene of Mardi Gras celebrations, a major shopping district, and many historical landmarks. For many, the overpass is a core part of the neighborhood’s identity.

NOMA member Andrea Henderson, AIA, explained how the organization selected this specific project for the challenge.

“We asked the host city [New Orleans] about particular design problems, and that really helps guide the competition angle,” Henderson said. “And now we’re asking students, ‘What would you do? Would you tear the overpass down or keep it up? And if you keep it, what would you do with it? If you tear it down, what will you put in its place?’”

Scenario One (Fig. A) includes partial removal of I-10 ramps along Claiborne Avenue. Scenario Two (Fig. B) includes full removal of the I-10 ramps and overpass along Claiborne Avenue.

“We approached it rationally like any urban planning project,” said Travis Armbrister, an architecture student at Tuskegee University and competitor. “We looked at existing conditions, traffic, existing parts, and even looked at some of the proposals the city was doing.

“After analyzing all that data, we realized that the community was actually a lot more in favor of moving the expressway,” said Armbrister, whose team consists of five fourth-year student architects at Tuskegee University.

“We quickly concluded that this project was about much more than the architectural effects of the I-10 overpass,” said Alexa Cavazos, a third-year student at Pennsylvania State University. “The Claiborne Corridor’s past has been riddled with heavy-handed installations, almost exclusively having a deleterious effect on local culture. Thus our team decided early on to design with organic development in mind.”

Penn State’s team is composed of eight members, ranging from fifth-year to second-year architectural students.

“Our design influences are inspired from backgrounds in performing arts, graphic design, urban living art, and landscape,” said Cavazos of her fellow teammates. “Some students’ strengths lie in the conceptual and schematic phase, while others’ specialty is in logistics. Each student truly brings their own perspective.”

This year, NOMA expects to receive entries representing 15 to 20 colleges and universities. Up to five students per team will officially present, but teams are often joined by several classmates to provide support and camaraderie.

Students will present their designs on October 15 and 16 during the NOMA Annual Conference, and the winners will be announced on October 17 at the final NOMA Awards Banquet.