In late August 2005, residents of the Armed Forces Retirement Home were faced with life-altering and unprecedented devastation. As the wrath of Hurricane Katrina subsided, it became clear that the severely damaged Home could not be salvaged. The attachment and commitment to the site remained strong, however, and a new Home was completed in 2010. Approximately 100 of the original residents returned to the site after 5 years in temporary lodging.
The design of the new facility focuses on artifacts which survived the devastation and emphasizes the prominence of the site as a driving force in the composition of the building. The 660,000 square-foot facility consists of 584 residential units located in a series of pavilions placed above a common level plinth which provides safe haven from potential future storms.
The project takes advantage of several key site features which dramatically influence the design. The axial orientation of the existing entrance drive, close proximity to the Gulf, and the scale of neighboring development all help define the placement and orientation of the building and its general organization and massing. The common level plinth is oriented to the entrance axis. Residential pavilions above the plinth are geometrically shifted off the entrance axis and are perpendicular to the coast-line, providing all residents equal views to the water (residents have a distinct egalitarian esprit de corps). The building massing steps down toward adjacent lower scaled development to the east and west.
The building focuses on a large elliptical entrance court, which contains surviving artifacts and a small grave site where former owners of the property are laid to rest. At the center of the ellipse, a large reflecting pool celebrates the rebuilding process and provides a contemplative reflection of the site and its past and future residents.
The plinth level is raised 20’ above sea level (and resident parking) and is organized into banded spatial layers which range from public (dining/café/recreational) to service retail (shops/learning center/arts and crafts) to service (medical clinic./administration/central plant). The main circulation artery, or “Main Street”, provides access to the public zones and links vertical circulation elements, which serve as building anchors.
Residential pavilions rise above the plinth and are aligned perpendicular to the coastline. Units are designed to be accessible to permit “aging in place,” and each contains a balcony which is inflected outward toward the view and coastal breezes. Fabric scrims provide shade, privacy, and a sense of enclosure.