Brooks + Scarpa (formerly Pugh + Scarpa)’s Make it Right (MIR) duplex home seeks to redefine the concept of a home into a flexible, multifunctional and adaptable space addressing the needs of today’s modern family, on a limited budget. Offering shelter and comfort, the MIR home breaks the prescriptive mold of the traditional home by creating public and private “zones” in which public areas and social integration with the neighborhood are emphasized. The organization of the space is intended to transform the way people live—away from a reclusive, isolating layout toward a family-oriented, interactive space.
When Katrina ravaged New Orleans, citizens were displaced from their homes, waited months to return home, and suffered further demoralizing setbacks, as officials discussed demolishing and abandoning entire neighborhoods that residents had worked so hard to create. The central concept of our new duplex home is the restoration of “pride of place” to those districts hardest-hit by the hurricane.
The house accomplishes this with several significant design moves:
The front porch, facing the street, provides a gathering place for neighborhood residents and relatives, and is divided into distinctive sub-zones: a platform for outdoor cooking and access to the home, front steps with bleacher-like seating areas, and a platform just big enough for two rocking chairs to take in the life on the street.
The inviting flames, porch and sheltering roof work together to make the home the social locus of the neighborhood. Rather than isolating the home from its Lower 9th Ward neighbors this connection is an attempt to strengthen the social network of the neighborhood.
The scale of the porch is purposefully oversized and grand. Topping out at 38 feet above grade, the structure is meant to stand tall and proud as a symbol of neighborhood and city pride. The verticality and focal strength of the home is emphasized by the presence of a 12-foot high outdoor “cook pit” integrated into the front porch, facing the street. The “cook pit” is made for outdoor grilling and barbecues, with open flames visible from the street at eye level, and a rotisserie enclosure accessed from the porch. A chimney extends from the hearth enclosure past the roofline, acting as the home’s axis mundi and providing the armature for the required egress ladder for rooftop flood refuge. The porch also includes step seating to engage the street.
Even though the house is five feet above the street, the porch reaches down to grade and makes a direct connection between the house and street connecting the families of the duplex directly to the street while simultaneously providing a welcoming symbol to the neighborhood.
Many of the design elements play this double role; the chimney acts both as an anchor and an escape; the porch is a refuge and a social gathering place; the cook pit is both a private and public hearth. The organization of the overall plan mediates between public and private objectives in a relatively small space.
On the ground floor, the back porch and yard have a significantly more private and enclosed feel than does the front porch and yard, yet movement between the two is fluid along the south side of the house. Residents of each unit can use the other’s porch without passing through the associated unit. The two units are also internally and externally connected by small exterior private porch to the north and by a pair of individually locked doors that can be opened to expand the two units into one for larger gatherings. The disposition of these units is ideal for extended families that still require a level of privacy.
Brooks + Scarpa’s approach to Cradle to Cradle sustainability begins with passive solar design strategies such as locating and orienting the building to control solar cooling and heat loads; shaping and orienting the building for exposure to prevailing winds; shaping the building to induce buoyancy for natural ventilation; and shaping and planning the interior to enhance daylight and natural air flow distribution. The roof pitches upward from at an angle that both announces the home to the street and induces air flow upwards through clerestory windows set just below the roofline. On the exterior, vertically oriented, patterned paneling reinforces the home’s height. Inside, a double-height space brings light, airflow and a sense of commodiousness to the living room.