Remembering Hurricane Katrina: The Robert Olshansky Collection

Ten years ago, on August 29th, 2005, Hurricane Katrina made its landfall as a Category 3 hurricane in southeastern Louisiana. The aftermath saw far-reaching consequences beyond the mass destruction caused by the hurricane–$108 billion dollars in property damage and over 1000 deaths. Issues surrounding governmental responsibility, race, class, and disaster response preparedness (or lack thereof) were hotly discussed in the national media, as those affected by the storm attempted to rebuild their lives in the weeks, months and even years following the disaster.

View of Destruction, Post Hurricane Katrina, Robert Olshansky 2005.

Throughout the aftermath, Dr. Robert Olshansky, Professor and Head of Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, meticulously recorded the long-term recovery of the areas affected by Hurricane Katrina. Dr. Olshansky, whose research focuses on post-disaster recovery planning, has chronicled such efforts in many areas affected by severe natural disasters. His photos are available through one of UIUC’s institutional collections in the ARTstor digital library, “Urban and Regional Planning from the Robert Olshansky Collection.” The collection of over 2000 images features numerous photographs of aftermath and recovery in cities around the world, including the 2008 earthquake in Sichuan Province, China; the 2010 earthquake in Haiti; and the 2011 tsunami and earthquake in northern Japan.

“Dog Rescued” on Garage Door, Post Hurricane Katrina, Robert Olshansky, 2005.

Interior of House, Post Hurricane Katrina, Robert Olshansky, 2005

The collection is made up of diverse shots: close ups, aerial views, as well as digital and physical reconstruction plans. Dr. Olshansky’s close up photos offer an intimate view of diverse cultures visually united in a common struggle to rebuild in the wake of disastrous natural phenomena. The photos are as raw as the scenes they depict; they are unedited, unretouched, photojournalistic accounts of loss on a very human scale. The immediacy of Olshanky’s close ups conveys an immersive, sensory experience of the chaos, as though you could walk into the scene and stand among the dilapidated buildings and twisted debris.

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Man Watching Approaching Car, Post Earthquake Haiti, Robert Olshansky, 2010

Interior of a Destroyed Laundry Mat following the March 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami, Robert Olshansky, 2011

The aerial views offer another perspective altogether. The cities stand in much the same way as before disaster struck, a testament to the triumph of architecture, engineering, and urban planning.

Osaka, Gifu-ken, Chūbu, Japan from Afar, Post Chūetsu Earthquake, Robert Olshansky, 2004-2005.

Aerial View of New Orleans, Two Years after Hurricane Katrina, Robert Olshansky, 2007

Aerial View of New Orleans, Two Years after Hurricane Katrina, Robert Olshansky, 2007

If you’re interested in learning more about Dr. Olshansky’s work, check out the collection on Artstor. You can also learn more about Hurricane Katrina and the future of disaster preparedness by reading Dr. Olshansky’s co-authored book Clear as Mud: Planning for the Rebuilding of New Orleans, and be sure to listen to his recent interview with Scott Beatty for the News-Gazette.

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Archigram Archival Project: Your Gateway to the Future of the Past!

I often wonder what a ‘complete’ archive of a body of work, institution, or style would look like. This ideal completeness is unattainable, as so many items that would be included in an archive are often lost, sold to different institutions, or in their contemporary moment, regarded as unimportant and thrown away. One such project attempting to recuperate the distance that often separates elements of an archive is The Archigram Archival Project (AAP).

Members of Archigram: Warren Chalk, Peter Cook, Dennis Crompton, David Greene, Ron Herron, and Michael Webb.

Members of Archigram: Warren Chalk, Peter Cook, Dennis Crompton, David Greene, Ron Herron, and Michael Webb.

For those of you not already familiar with the seminal architectural group Archigram, here’s a quick bio:

Archigram was an avant-garde architectural group formed during the 1960s in London. Their work was largely unbuilt and hyopthetical, taking its cues largely from the neo-futurist movement of the late 20th and early 21st century. ‘Plug-in-City,’ designed by Peter Cook in 1964 was not a building, rather it was a mega-structure in which cell-like or module dwellings could be slated into. In 1964, Ron Herron proposed an alternate city, ‘The Walking City,’ which was comprised of moving buildings (essentially buildings that were robots) which contained space for people to live-within while the buildings roamed the city. Sounds weird, but awesome right? That’s why this archive is is fascinating!

Walking City: Proposal for a nomadic city infrastructure in which urban utilities would not be tied to a specific location. Originally called Cities:Moving, 1964.

Walking City: Proposal for a nomadic city infrastructure in which urban utilities would not be tied to a specific location. Originally called Cities:Moving, 1964.

Archigram focused their efforts on understanding the relationship between space, technology, and architecture, relationships that in the 21st century we are still trying to understand and negotiate as different forms to technology become engrained in everyday life. Archigram was interested in both temporary and permanent structures to facilitate and mimic modern life, and while largely hypothetical, has had lasting impacts on contemporary architects.

Plug-In City Article, Sunday Times Color Supplement Article written by Priscilla Chapman on Plug-In City, published in The Sunday Times colour supplement magazine, 20th September, 1964

Plug-In City Article, Sunday Times Color Supplement Article written by Priscilla Chapman on Plug-In City, published in The Sunday Times colour supplement magazine, 20th September, 1964

The Archigram Archival Project is a digital-based resource that displays images of works that are held throughout many different collections, creating a digital place for all of their work and projects to co-exist with one another. In some ways, this digital resource of all of their projects sort of mirrors one of their city planning designs doesn’t it? Instead of you searching for the projects, the project resources move to you!

Dream City Project, 1963: Speculative proposal for ‘city’ suspended on tension system: expanding to cover the earth or as Zeppelin war machine. Shown in Living City exhibition.

Dream City Project, 1963: Speculative proposal for ‘city’ suspended on tension system: expanding to cover the earth or as Zeppelin war machine. Shown in Living City exhibition.

The AAP primarily centers on Archigram’s work between 1961-1974, but contains information regarding projects before and after these dates. Unfortunately, the primary gap in this resource is the absence of film and AV material due to copyright issues. The 10,000+ collection was created largely in thanks to a £304,000 grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council, and a team from the University of Westminster.

Looking through these projects, its almost uncanny how much some these mirror the our communication patterns in the 21st century. This is a great resource not only for understanding 20th century avant-garde architecture, but also finding inspiration for that sci-fi novel you’ll one day write!