The Lakeview House," David Lachin and Thomas Colosino's winning entry in the Billes Architecture Home Design Competition, starts not with a fancy rendering or an elaborate schematic, but a simple picture of a freight-shipping container. "Modular, well constructed, functional, reusable and inexpensive," their statement of intent reads, characterizing both the giant crate that provides a foundation for the house and the smartly designed home resting atop it.
"They excelled in affordability, constructability, innovativeness, green concepts and across the board in terms of aesthetics," says T. Dylan O'Donnell, Billes' marketing director and a judge in the competition. "I could see where local residents, people who are rebuilding in Lakeview where they specified, would find the design very palatable."
"We're both from Lakeview," Colosino says. "It just seemed appropriate that we'd pick a site that we know."
The LSU architecture seniors and longtime friends entered the competition by happenstance. Hunting for job opportunities in January, Colosino was browsing the New Orleans firm's Web site when he clicked on a call for submissions. Billes had set a series of rigid guidelines for entries: Eligible designs required three bedrooms and two and a half baths; between 1,500 and 2,000 square feet of interior living space; and configuration for sites ranging from 30 to 50 feet wide and 100 to 150 feet deep.
To ensure a progressive, sustainable approach, the competition also required they meet standards for gold or platinum LEED-H certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. Complicating matters further were the financial parameters: a total construction cost between $150,000 and $225,000. "Lakeview House was one of the highest-ranking houses in terms of constructability and feasibility," O'Donnell says.
Among the initial challenges Lachin and Colosino faced was the Advisory Base Flood Elevation (ABFE) of Lakeview, a minimum height requirement of 6.5 to 8 feet. Enter the shipping container, which conveniently sits at 8.5 feet tall. "They stack shipping containers on top of each other, so we thought it would be excellent for our project and very fitting for our house to sit on top of a container," Colosino says. "We thought of New Orleans as a port city, so we wanted to pay respect to that part of the city's history."
Other parts of the sustainable design allude to Lakeview's heritage as a seafood hub. Gabion walls on the front and rear of the building are constructed from recycled crab traps filled with cleaned oyster shells, and repaired fishermen's nets function as balcony railings. Those inspirations launched an intensive six-week creative process for the pair. After graduation, they plan to work together in a New Orleans firm owned by Lachin's uncle.
"We would put different aspects together and hand them across the desk to each other," Lachin says. "Thomas came up with the shipping container idea, and I came up with the crab-trap wall and the netting railings, some of the recycled green aspects of the building."
There is more of that to the Lakeview House than meets the eye, he explains: "(In addition to) all the conventional aspects that we recycled, (there is) the building's orientation to the north and south. The south side contains the portions of the building that would heat up during the day. There's a thermal zoning on the south side that is naturally a hot side of the building, so we pushed the living areas to the north side where there would be less need for cooling. We have south-facing windows that open up on the north side, so you get nice cross-ventilation (and) solar panels on the south side."
The competition drew 29 applicants, a pool Billes whittled down to 10 finalists. At an April 11 ceremony in the Renaissance Arts Hotel, five were selected as winners of the $1,000 prize, with Lachin and Colosino as the only locals left standing. The other selections include a student from Cincinnati and three teams from McGill University in Montreal, whose professor turned the competition into a special topics course. "They would watch movies about the city, they would listen to music, they would study the food and then obviously the architectural vernacular," O'Donnell says.
Billes aims to use the five designs as prototypes for affordable green-building projects in the competition's four zones: Uptown, downtown, eastern New Orleans and Lakeview/Gentilly. The company recently set up a partner nonprofit, New Designs New Orleans (www.ndno.org), to raise funds for construction.
"We're going to work hand in hand with the students — the designers, we'll call them now — and they will be factored into the fee structure when it comes time to build these," O'Donnell says. "We're hoping that through this nonprofit we'll be able to push this project forward to the next phase, which will be to get financing and then ultimately to build these, and build these hopefully in great numbers."