ALTERNATE FUTURES – Coastal Sustainability Studio sponsored Design Research / LSU School of Architecture / Spring 2016
Professor Catherine Bonier (Image: Aerial Render, Morgan City by James Babin)
This research and design studio began with the question, “Can we imagine alternate futures for Morgan City?” An intensive study of ecological, social, and economic systems gave rise to a number of interesting student proposals. Critical to every design was the conclusion that industry and environment are deeply connected, especially in the fragile and fluctuating environment of southern Louisiana, and must in the future continue to support each other towards greater resilience and sustainability.
Morgan City has evolved over time, altered by shifting cultural, political, physical, ecological, and economic forces even as it maintains its position within the Atchafalaya Basin. At present the Atchafalaya’s flow is controlled to support industry between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, and to keep Morgan City safe. The Atchafalaya and Mississippi dance a powerful duet. The Atchafalaya is a release valve, especially when the Mississippi runs at flood stages. At Old River Control’s diversion structures north of Baton Rouge, the Army Corps of Engineers manages water levels, keeping the distribution between the Mississippi and Atchafalaya fixed at 70 to 30 percent, a ratio based on 1950s river levels.
Morgan City sits downriver of the controls, and is an active port and a historically important city. In 2015, however, Morgan City’s historic downtown is partially abandoned. Among the many empty storefronts, one block of restored facades shrouds a commercial refrigeration depot for offshore industries. Along Front Street, eighteen-wheelers easily roll in and out, undisturbed by other traffic.
This advanced architectural research studio asked questions about Morgan City’s future, proposing alternate scenarios for industry and living within a more watery environment. Based on clear analysis and strong creative arguments, students could propose an adjustment to the flow ratio between the Atchafalaya and Mississippi, fluctuating with seasonal and longer duration changes. Students proposed projects phased forward to the year 2050, in some cases imagining that the distribution of water might be increased, allowing the Atchafalaya to receive up to 50% of the Mississippi’s flow.
The LSU Coastal Sustainability Studio (CSS) is a trans-disciplinary program of the College of Art + Design, College of Engineering, and School of the Coast & Environment.
The LSU Coastal Sustainability Studio provided financial, planning, and institutional support for Professor Catherine Bonier’s architectural research studio at LSU School of Architecture. Student work from this design studio provided the source material for this website. CSS works to envision and design sustainable systems that reduce vulnerability to increased storm strength, coastal hazards, habitat degradation, and global environmental change. The results of this design experimentation provide a sound basis for major policy decisions for adaptation through more sustainable land-use planning protection, and education.