Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Mod Minn(ies): From Humble Beginnings

All Photos By Timothy Hursley

As a designer at Shelter Architecture I have the opportunity to work with some fun modern design ideas. Recently, John Dwyer, founder of Shelter, lent his affordable housing expertise to assisting other architects in Biloxi as we worked with Architecture For Humanity's Biloxi Model Homes program. This project meant that we received numerous plan sets for new single-family home prototypes to be built in East Biloxi, and John made numerous trips South on behalf of AFH to insure each was built properly. These houses are designed to reinvent how homes are built in flood prone areas and to meet FEMA's guidelines for hurricane resistance. The most difficult challenge posed by the project was raising a home off the ground 12 feet, disrupting the vibrant porch culture so important in Gulf Coast communities. One particular home design that tackled this issue and stood out from the other homes in the project was Marlon Blackwell's Porchdog house.

Gulf Coast regions are slowly recovering from Katrina, but perhaps one of the worst remnants will be the transformation of vibrant street culture into something that is more remnant of the underside of a wharf. Regardless of the dazzling work lofted above the street-scape, the reality below is nothing short of foreboding. Porchdog refused to disrupt cultural tradition; instead, they designed a simple metal-clad home that cantilevers from an enclosed stair and storage volume all tied to the ground by a massive concrete stoop. This simple strategy left behind the pilloti-driven paradigm and unified structure and culture in a single but powerful move. The result is a home that is structurally spectacular, but still open and airy below, inviting neighborhood parties and spontaneous gatherings that were so common in pre-Katrina Biloxi. However, it's a reinterpretation of architectural culture which is far away from nostalgic ideas we frequently expect from the more typical 'New Urbanist' interpretations of a cultural landscape.

The story of this 1,500 square-foot home's evolution is not a fairly tale. The humble $115,000 price-tag, made possible by Oprah's Angel Network, was certainly limiting, but rocky planning and corrupt contractors made the process even more difficult. Regardless, the design team and the third and final contractor, Herbie Holder, fought for more than two years to insure this home for a single father and teenage son was complete. The interior is a simple open plan opening onto a very large second-story porch connecting this elevated home to the outdoors. The second staircase leads to the third floor with two modest bedrooms both with floor to glass windows. These East and West facing rooms can be made hurricane safe, and private, by operable metal screens which can be retracted at any time.

Despite the difficulties of construction, this project was well worth the battles to the proud owners and Blackwell's office. With its clear, potent design, it recently made the short list at the London Design Museum as an architectural finalist for the Brit Insurance Design Awards. This single-family American home rubbed shoulders with Pritzker-Prize winning architecture such as Zaha Hadid's new MAXXI in Rome and Herzog & de Meuron's TEA cultural complex in Portugal. It is a wonderful example of how truly spectacular modern work can be propagated from the least likely of projects, regardless of scale and budget. In a recent interview with Threshold, Jonathan Boelkins the project manager for Porchdog from Marlon Blackwell Architect summed up the impact that these inventive small humanitarian projects can have, "Every project has potential and dignity-- even something so small can have that much breadth."

To find out more please visit Architecture For Humanity’s Open Source Architecture website.


Matt Olson said...

bravo! really great.

Anonymous said...

That is the most unique home I've ever seen. It really revinvents what a house can be. The low budget is nothing short of amazing.

-Tom, AIA