Each project brings a unique set of challenges and opportunities to achieve design excellence. A completed build is the manifestation of many long days, sore muscles and lessons learned. More important than an eye-catching new space is a student’s growth over the course of the project. Teamwork, professionalism and problem-solving skills serve as a foundation students’ future success.


Situated directly across the street from URBANbuild 7, URBANbuild 12 is the program’s fourth house on Toledano and tenth project in Central City. For this house, NHS allowed students to design a two-bedroom scheme instead of the typical 3-bedroom program, so they were able to develop a single-story project. By reducing the scope of work with URBANbuild 12, students were able to provide a project with greater resolution and detail. As the design strategy was not limited by a second floor ceiling plane above, the home features several rooms of dramatic vertical dimension.

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URBANbuild 11 would become the third house the program would build on Toledano Street in Central City and would be the program’s first true infill site, where only the front façade would be visible.

URBANbuild 11 faces due west, so this orientation necessitated a shading system that would reduce heat gain and mitigate sun exposure. This requirement provided students with an opportunity to play with light and shadow and resulted in the development of a movable shutter system made from painted cedar framed in aluminum and set on a rolling track system.

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URBANbuild 10 was once again developed on a substandard lot, just two doors down from the previous year’s two-story URBANbuild 9 home. This year’s house was designed so that it could function as a single-family dwelling or a duplex that would incorporate a two-bedroom unit with bedrooms upstairs and public living space downstairs, with a smaller studio also located downstairs.

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URBANbuild 9 marked a return to the program’s partnership with NHS. By this point, URBANbuild had completed six projects in close proximity in Central City, within just a few block radius of each other, and a body of work was beginning to emerge. Continuing this trend, this year’s home would become the first of three neighboring projects to be built on a single block bounded by Harmony and Toledano Streets. Completing these three homes was an ambitious goal on a block that was in the greatest need—its water and sewer lines were broken, and its storm drains were not functional—so, URBANbuild worked with the New Orleans Sewerage and Water Board to repair the storm water drainage system.

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URBANbuild 8 was completed in collaboration with Harmony Neighborhood Development, a local community development corporation with a mission of working to help create a more vibrant Central City and New Orleans. In this year’s design studio, students worked on schemes for a series of mixed-use facilities consisting of retail space at ground level with housing units located above—a project of substantial scale compared to the first seven URBANbuild homes. The project was further developed as a series of 6 movable market units or “pods” that rolled on metal tracks so that the site could be arranged in a number of ways.

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“I had a really great experience. The neighbors responded really well, being students, building by hand, rain or shine, every day. We started to form good relationships with them. Just that level of interaction with the neighborhood was pretty powerful.”

– Rena Foster, Alumnus UB5


URBANbuild 7 is a finely crafted home that raised the bar on expectations for all projects to follow. For this house, NHS gave the program two adjacent substandard lots, which allowed the students to pursue a different planning typology than those of many earlier URBANbuild homes; this year, students were not constrained by the typical narrow “shotgun” lot configuration so common to New Orleans and were able to pursue a wider, center-hall strategy.

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For URBANbuild 6, the studio was once again able to partner with NHS and to reestablish a connection with Central City, a relationship that continues to this day. The studio was glad to be back in Central City, the neighbors were happy to see the students return, and URBANbuild 6 became the first of four houses that would eventually be realized on Toledano Street. This year’s house represented a return to the original 3-bedroom, 2-bathroom program and to the focus on maintaining a close connection between house and street, in keeping with the neighborhood tradition of socializing from porches and stoops.

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The year that URBANbuild 5 was to commence, Program Director Byron Mouton’s private firm, bilddesign, was invited to work with Brad Pitt’s Make it Right Foundation. URBANbuild’s student team then collaborated with bilddesign and TKO Construction on a house project for Make it Right. This relationship allowed students to work with materials and systems in compliance with “cradle to cradle” goals.

Provided with access to geothermal cooling systems, solar energy systems, heating systems of greater efficiency, and the opportunity to work alongside an established contractor, students were able to achieve a project of greater scale than previous projects.

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This year, the studio focused on pursuing LEED certification and did achieve a LEED Silver rating through the provision of an energy-efficient building in compliance with national energy standards and requirements. The URBANbuild 4 house project also responded to the city’s new hurricane preparation requirement through the invention of an operable shutter system using impact-resistant polycarbonate materials; in doing so, it also provided a home with remarkable qualities of diffused natural light.

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For URBANbuild 3, in an effort to further the program’s research aims and to allow for experimentation and revision during construction, the studio utilized a prefabricated wood framing system so that wall panels could be more easily altered on site. The structurally insulated panel (SIP) system was also selected with the goal of improving energy efficiency and did prove to be an incredibly effective thermal barrier. Construction of this project was featured in the Sundance Documentary, Architecture School.

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In URBANbuild 2, with proof of concept established, the directors shifted their attention to the program’s educational component and a focus on research. This led to experimentation with different building systems over the next few years, with each house considered as a full-scale model for an academic and experiential research project. To that end, URBANbuild 2 was constructed using a prefabricated metal wall system in an effort to test speed of assembly, provide a termite-resistant structure, and introduce students to a new building system and the coordination it required.

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URBANbuild 1 was initiated in partnership with Neighborhood Housing Services (NHS) in response to receiving a HUD grant after Hurricane Katrina, when many New Orleanians were just returning to the city after the storm. This grant presented an opportunity to prove that the program could work—that a group of students could build a house on time and on budget in the space of fourteen weeks. Achieving this goal required inventing a system in which students engage with licensed professionals when necessary in order to fully complete each project within the time frame of a single academic semester.

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