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In Between the Space of Permanence


Submitted by Marisa Brown Thesis Advisor: Donna Dunay Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University College of Architecture and Urban Studies Bachelors of Architecture, May 2010

[Modular Housing in Response to Hurricane Katrina]


There is always a question of how to rebuild the community after a natural disaster. Is it best to rebuild the same and pretend nothing ever happened? Or should the event be monumentalized; displayed in its gruesome beauty as an act of remembrance? This question is still being asked along the Gulf Coast, five years after Hurricane Katrina. What should remain? What should change? How to rebuild the area when nothing remains of what used to be?

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Another question that arose through this study was the question of permanence. Is it arrogant to assume a structure can withstand another category five hurricane? Should there be a level of ignorance that allows one to believe another storm of such magnitude will not pass along the same path? Or rather, should there be a humble acceptance of the inevitable; an understanding that nature is powerful and will follow whatever course she chooses. Once this is accepted and understood it is possible to focus on what this means for the town. And neighborhood has been destroyed? further, how a sense of permanence can be The idea has been narrowed down to the study created, even if permanence is something that of housing, and in particular, modular housing. is not achievable. Following the storm Mississippi Cottages and FEMA trailers were given to families, a temporary For this reason the project is divided into two house to help families get by in a time of need. parts: The permanent [masonry] and the But temporary houses do not make communities. changing [modular]. This dichotomy allows An idea of permanence must be given to the the site to remain true as an anchor of the individual, to the community. The idea of settling community, even if parts of it are missing. ones’ roots, making a space one’s own; and in The heavy masonry anchors the site and return building the relationships that create a becomes the face of the project; thus allowing community. Relationships with the environment, the project to still have a sense of place even neighbors, the city. This is how communities without any modular pieces being added to it. are developed; by allowing the individual to The modular system provides a lightness to take ownership of their space, giving them a the site, held within the heavy structure of the reason and connection to exist within the larger columns and beams. community.


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Mississippi Sound (Gulf of Mexico)

Pass Christian, Mississippi


What once used to be a vibrant street, fenced by a man-made lake running the length of the road, now sit empty, abandoned foundations of houses that once were. These are the only remains of the community that used to be there. The foundations must be respected, but not memorialized; they become integral to the site, to the existence of the project, a place to live among the memories of the past while building a new community. The site consists of the first six foundations. These foundations, along with the flat topography are used to inform the new structure. These elements come together to create a new landscape of earth and masonry: a topography of change, dynamic, anticipated change.


Roof Level - 28’ above ground

Second Level - 20’ above ground

First Level- 12’ above ground

Porch Level - 4’ above ground


The Southern Porch becomes emphasized as a space separating the public from the private. The concrete footings of the columns rise three feet above the porch level, creating a barrier at ground level between the public space of the road and the house. On the porch the footings become horizon lines, directing the line of site towards the lake behind the houses. A relationship between the concrete footings, masonry foundations, wooden slats of the porch, and the organic material of gardens is formed, creating individual spaces for each porch.

Ceiling Height

Standing Height Sitting Height Foundation Height


A moment to linger is needed; time to appreciate a particular tree framed by the sun and the weathered wood. An understanding of the structure is gained, a passage between the planned and the discovered. Notes of interest are kept between the spaces. Stories are shared among neighbors; tales of the mysterious history linger in the air, caught in an ever-changing chorus of perspectives. But always, a moment exists, balancing the tamed and the crude, the difference between the known and the beauty of discovery.


A space hovering between the masonry tower and the modular space becomes distinctive to each house. An entrance that marks the house’s position on the land; a line of site emphasized by the direction of the entryway, a tiny window connecting the house to the larger community, each created to make the house its own. An individual piece among the whole, similar in totality, but unique in the details, in the space offered as a small sanctuary to rest between the t w o w o r l d s .


The modular system provides a freedom to the project, a chance to rebel against the structured grid. The idea of a tree house is used: need dictates the space, the temporary nature of the structure provides the beauty. Floors are slid into place where needed. Walls are placed between the columns to create spaces. Spaces of inhabitation are determined by the needs of the occupant, emphasized by the wall panels. Wooden structure covered by translucent material reveals the uses of the space, provides an elevated landscape of graphic emphasis. The individual is celebrated, appreciated, but connected within the grid; unified by the structure.


Modular Development Examples


In Between the Space of Permanence  

Modular housing in response to Hurricane Katrina

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