Global Green USA — in partnership with Brad Pitt — has been running an architectural contest. People from around the world are competing to design the best, cheapest, most efficient, most sustainable 12-unit apartment building, to be built in post-Katrina New Orleans. Hundreds of entries have been winnowed down to six finalists.

Vote for your favorite.

Global Green head honcho Matt Petersen sent us this dispatch, discussing the contest and his latest trip to New Orleans. Enjoy.


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I returned to New Orleans last week to meet the six finalists selected by our design jury (with guidance and stringent review from our technical jury, made up of representatives of Global Green USA, AIA, and the U.S. Green Building Council).  

It was exciting and edifying to meet the teams. They dedicated so much time and energy to coming up with innovative ideas for the design, meeting aggressive green-building and affordable-housing goals. Some had ideas like a solar barge or river turbines to power the buildings, as the site is adjacent to the Mississippi River.

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Now they have to prove that their designs and green features are feasible and affordable.

The finalists went on a tour and I went to visit again with the Mayor’s office; he — as well as most of the City Council — has expressed great interest in having the City of New Orleans embrace green building and sustainability. We’re having conversations now about how far we can go; we might announce the policies around the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.

I shared my experience at a neighborhood meeting that same night. I first saw the 126 submissions on July 13. They were drawn from 3,000 pre-registrants expressing interest and 480 paid registrations — large numbers for design competitions this ambitious.

When I first walked through the rooms of Gallier Hall — the original city hall in New Orleans — I was a bit giddy at the time and energy put into the drawings, designs, and green building features. Contestants had put in over 10,000 hours of work collectively over the course of five weeks.

Then I got serious about the work at hand. As the other non-architects moved about at my same slow pace (we had never been in a design jury before), I tried to give equal time to all 40 or so finalists. But the tremendous outpouring of architectural excellence, green-building innovation, and humanitarian commitment … I found myself moved by the magnitude of the effort, and jumbled by the beauty, the grace, and even the humor.

I knew the neighborhood might have trepidations about the designs initially. As stipulated in New Orleans historic district guidelines, we asked designers for buildings "’of their time" — ones that therefore will not look exactly like, or in some cases at all like, the shotgun or steam-boat houses in the Holy Cross neighborhood.

The neighborhood was extremely grateful for our efforts and the opportunity to provide input. Over the course of the following days, reports came in that residents were getting more familiar with the designs, knowing that perhaps their neighborhood could become the home of an amazing design that took green building, healthy homes, and energy efficiency to the next level.

Among other green building goals and criteria, we have asked finalists to achieve net zero energy and a have a reduction of at least 50% to 70% in energy costs of equivalent units.

We will see the next iteration of designs on August 14 and 15, and then the final design iterations at the end of August, which will go to the technical and design juries, as well as the neighborhoods.

At that point, we’ll endeavor to get at least one of the designs built in Holy Cross, and perhaps other finalists’ designs in other neighborhoods.

Through this initiative, we can put forth a new model for rebuilding New Orleans, creating a greener city that responds to the very thing that made Hurricane Katrina more destructive: global warming, the resulting increased intensity in storms, and rising sea levels.

We can also show that the solutions to global warming are things that make the lives of families better, in particular low-income families: lower energy costs, healthier homes, and better quality of life.