In 2005, Hurricane Katrina transformed the Lower Garden District of New Orleans, Louisiana (NOLA) from a vibrant, eclectic community into a blighted, desolate no-man’s land. A group of students from Washington University discovered that a new chicken coop for the Sixth Street Baptist Church was a great design opportunity to stimulate the community and create positive change in the community. Who would have thought that a small but well designed building for chickens would create such a positive impact on a devastated community struggling to rebuild itself?
Pre-Hurricane Katrina and in the Lower Garden District of NOLA, Sixth Street Baptist Church kept an urban garden, known as “God’s Vineyard”, through which to grow and sell fresh produce and educate children about the business of growing and selling crops. Fresh vegetables and eggs were sold to support the garden as well as to help pay tuition for the students of the church. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina swept through New Orleans, completely destroying God’s Vineyard. In addition to the ruined crops, the chicken and goose coops were damaged, leaving the free-range chickens and geese with nowhere to roost. In turn, the church lost a source of income and the community lost a very valuable social and economical asset.
In February of 2008, students from Washington University in St. Louis connected with God’s Vineyard through the CITYbuild Consortium of Schools, an organization promoting cooperation between universities and communities in need (Georgia Tech is also a member of this organization). Through this partnership, students from Washington U took a trip to New Orleans and collaborated with the Sixth Street Baptist Church to design and build a new chicken coop and plant new crops.
The chicken coop’s repair became the perfect opportunity for design to instigate revitalization for the Lower Garden District and the church. The project required Washington U and Six Street to address the three main aspects of sustainable design: social, economic and environmental design. Work with the chicken coop, a small and unique building type, served to exemplify that designers are not only limited to traditional building types and that design has the creative ability to instigate positive change. The coop encouraged ‘slow food’ processes, therefore creating a new type of venue from which young people could learn about sustainable practices and economic entrepreneurship. The chicken coop also proved to be socially responsible in revitalizing the use of the urban garden and encouraging the rebuilding of NOLA’s physical and social structures.
This design project is just another example telling of the ways that design can catalyze change and encourage sustainable practices; a solid design can solve more problems that exist outside of pure aesthetics and good design is not limited to those who are financially well-off. The work of Washington University students demonstrates that students of design can use their area of expertise to combat larger public issues like disaster relief through interdisciplinary projects.
For a closer look at the work of God’s Vineyard:
All images courtesy of Washington University student studio book. Free downloadable version of the book can be found at http://nolarecipe.blogspot.com/.
[ chicken coop, Citybuild, Design Activism, God's Vineyard, New Orleans, slow food, Washington University ]