The Gulf Coast Community Design Studio is a nonprofit organization providing architectural design and neighborhood planning services to communities on the Mississippi Gulf Coast rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina. This Spring, GCCDS offers its second service-learning semester of study in East Biloxi. This is the blog of their planning studio, a description of which follows.

The Spring 2008 Studio. In its architectural and community planning work in East Biloxi, the Gulf Coast Community Design Studio has identified low-lying areas of the peninsula as presenting special challenges. Base flood requirements are directly related to topography such that houses in low areas may be elevated as much as 17’-0” above the ground, increasing the costs and difficulty of construction, and presenting challenges to neighborhood design. Low-lying areas also present increased risk of future damage during even mild storm events. The low-lying areas historically absorb the overflow of nearby wetlands during storm events, and development in these areas hinders that function, ultimately intensifying storm impacts.


Responding to similar concerns, FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program is predicated on the idea that destroyed buildings on high-risk sites should not be rebuilt. Instead the land should become open space, protected from future development. However, without a comprehensive planning process, mitigated properties would become a haphazard set of vacant lots and would not create community benefits, either socially or ecologically. The Planning Studio will create a carefully considered mosaic of three well-defined land uses:

preserved wetlands connected to the Gulf which would be large enough and have enough continuity to be ecologically complete;

programmed public space such as walking trails, playgrounds, and meeting places that would create a connected landscape that would be well-used and well-loved by the community; and

complete neighborhoods of elevated buildings taking full advantage of the nearby open space.

The semester’s work will be focused around the Auguste Bayou in East Biloxi, a waterway extending from Biloxi’s Back Bay into the heart of residential neighborhoods in which the GCCDS is working.

The Participants. This semester, students from the College of Architecture, Art + Design at Mississippi State University and the College of Design at University of Minnesota will spend the semester in Biloxi. A group of students from the Department of Urban Studies and Planning at MIT will take part in a parallel studio in Cambridge.