Let the Good Times Roll Again
Drew Lang's Faubourg St. Roch Project will revive a nine-block area of New Orleans within three years.
Mark McMeniman -- Interior Design, 11/19/2007 12:00:00 AM
In 1987, Drew Lang left New Orleans, where he grew up, and went to college up North. Graduate architecture school at Yale University and a job at Steven Harris Architects followed. He'd gone out on his own as Lang Architecture by 2005, when Hurricane Katrina made landfall.
As in all marginalized New Orleans neighborhoods, the storm's ravages added injury to insult in Faubourg St. Roch, where more than a quarter of residents were already living below the poverty line. The situation stirred Lang to establish the Faubourg St. Roch Project, a three-year plan to resuscitate nine blocks of the nearly 200-year-old district. Partnering with him in the ambitious undertaking is New Orleans activist Allison Stouse, who serves as director of operations.
From St. Roch Market on St. Claude Avenue, where local vendors once hawked fat crabs and gumbo, to Independence Square park, speckled with soon-to-be-vacated trailers from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, a volunteer team is salvaging materials from damaged structures and repurposing them to construct houses and mixed-use buildings. Salvaged materials are carted off to a leased warehouse to be milled and await reuse, with locally sourced new materials filling in the gaps. "Green" deconstruction not only reduces waste by 70 percent but also gives subsequent generations tangible links to the community's Creole provenance.
But homage to the past hasn't prevented Lang from embracing modern advances, particularly when it comes to the environment. The New Orleans City Council is considering adopting the Standard of Sustainability, a benchmark for green building. If enacted, two buildings under development at 1700 St. Roch Avenue will be the first to comply. The four residential units and one commercial unit will share a passive-thermal engine HVAC system to reduce carbon emissions by 50 percent and energy consumption by 90 percent. Proceeds from the sale of the units will be returned to the foundation to subsidize further construction.
But as much as Lang is rebuilding structures, he's also reassembling a community. To that end, the St. Roch Mosaic Walk is intended to serve as both a civic art project and a symbolic expression of neighborhood pride. Stretching for six blocks between towering oak trees on the median of St. Roch Avenue, the 12-foot-wide walk will pepper the area's neutral ground with countless flecks of color. Five artists will be chosen in an open competition to collaborate on the design.
While Lang and his crew are well underway, the foundation itself continues to raise funds to fuel the rebirth of St. Roch. By going to strochproject.com, you can make an online donation while learning more about the project. There's even a link for purchasing St. Roch apparel and accessories, including a Celebrate St. Roch t-shirt—predictably, it's made of organic cotton—with all proceeds going toward the rebuilding efforts.