Thursday, September 22, 2005

New Orleans housing

I'd like to imagine that S. Frederick Starr is correct that many of New Orleans's homes can be saved. If not, I hope that some of the knowledge and skills of those 19th century architects and engineers who built much of New Orleans can be employed again.
In the 19th century, local craftsmen devised structural techniques that allowed houses to stand securely on the city's pudding-like alluvial soil, and to survive in the region's notoriously humid climate, with its insects, termites and mold. In place of the heavy, water-absorbing brick-between-post construction that had been used earlier, or the brick masonry common on higher ground in the city, they began using light balloon frames, self-reinforcing structures of two-by-four joists that could be raised above ground on brick or stone piers. For these frames they used local cypress wood, which resists both water and rot, and for secondary woods they favored local cedar, which is nearly as weatherproof as cypress, and dense virgin pine.

The builders also used circulating air to ward off mold. Ten- to twelve-foot ceilings in even the smallest homes, as well as large windows, channel the slightest breeze throughout the house. And by raising the structures above the ground, builders assured that air would circulate beneath them as well, discouraging termites and rodents.