Wednesday, September 7, 2011

What is your definition of structure?

By Audrey Treece

Throughout my undergraduate career at Southern Illinois University Carbondale I had the unique opportunity of completing two degrees simultaneously, History and Architectural Studies. I truly believe that having the chance to explore two completely different programs within two completely different schools enriched my understanding and value of my education. I struggled with the constant battle of relating the two disciplines but when I made connections it made the struggle well worth the time.

During my final semester as an undergraduate, I had to choose a Senior Seminar to complete my history requirements. I have to admit, they do not give you much of an option and everything varies by semester. I have to honestly say that I hit the jackpot when I was able to enroll in a seminar titled Disasters, Accidents and Emergencies. I thought, if nothing else, that it had to be interesting. Not only was the course interesting and one of the most organized I have ever taken, but it was also one of my “ah ha” moments when the two disciplines came full circle and made sense on how they were related.

After eight weeks of readings, research and discussions we were set out to explore a topic of our choice with the only requirement of keeping the paper historical or as my professor defined it, “change over time.” I wanted to relate to architecture is some way to force myself into trying to define the relationship between the two. I chose Hurricane Katrina as my disaster, accident or emergency to explore and specifically wanted to focus on the rebuilding component. After numerous hours of research I finally zoned in on a topic that provoked my thinking. I kept seeing the word “structure” used in much different context than I was used to. I realized that I had never thought of the “structure” as being anything more than the mere outcome of construction or the required class I had to take in order to graduate from the architecture program. I ran with the opportunity to expand my thinking and used “structure” as the basis for my paper.

When I started to research the various meanings that structure could have, I realized that when a city, like New Orleans, begins to rebuild from a disaster, they have to rebuild all of the meanings of structure besides just the physical. Using this as a starting point, I started to explore the rebuilding initiatives of New Orleans, post-Katrina. I used questions like: Rebuilding for whom? Who makes the decisions? How do we restore New Orleans and create a new sense of community, culture, home and history? The end result of these questions led me to: After addressing the physical, cultural, economical, social, historical, emotional and environmental components that make up the “structure,” New Orleans can become a rebuilt and revitalized city.

I addressed throughout my paper that the devastation imposed on New Orleans was the breakdown in structure which led to the disaster, not nature. The hurricane merely brought forward all of the issues that otherwise would have been hidden or ignored. The rebuilding initiative needs to address all forms of “structure” to allow New Orleans to find the road to recovery. After addressing these issues and incorporating them into the rebuilding process, New Orleans will again be able to prosper without losing the culture that it had from pre-Katrina society.

After introducing the hurricane, the background on structure, and my argument, I went through each structural component and explored the rebuilding initiatives within it. I concluded my paper with that no matter who creates the plan, New Orleans will be rebuilt. The structural components are extremely important in the road to recovery for New Orleans and to erase the image of Katrina from the natives.
One of the main challenges that I encountered throughout the writing process was keeping the paper strictly historical, dealing in some fashion with change over time, versus steering towards an architectural analysis. Although it was tough at times, I valued the experience and enjoyed the break away from an architectural stance and exploring a different meaning of structure. Needless to say, my definition of structure is now completely different.

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