Global Green USA recently completed the first of five sustainably designed low-income houses in the Holy Cross neighborhood of New Orleans' Lower 9th Ward. Part of a post-Hurricane Katrina community-rebuilding project, the prototype house opened May 15 for public tours, giving developers, contractors, and most important, the residents of New Orleans, an example of how to build sustainably and affordably in the Mississippi River region.

The prototype house will serve as a visitor resource center for about one year, until the Holy Cross Project is entirely complete. Global Green estimates that about 1,000 people have already visited since its opening.

Designed by Matthew Berman, Assoc. AIA, and Andrew Kotchen, Assoc. AIA, principals of New York City and Nantucket, Mass.-based architectural firm workshop/apd (discussed in ra's August 2007 issue here), the Global Green Holy Cross Project is intended to serve as an example of sustainable affordable housing development. In addition to five single-family houses, the project will include an 18-unit green affordable-housing apartment building and a community center.

"Workshop/apd's design was really compelling because it had wonderful sustainable features. But I think [what's equally important] is that even though it's a modern design, you can see the reference to historic architecture," says Beth Galante, director of Global Green USA's New Orleans chapter. Dubbed a "21st-century shotgun," the prototype house is a modern take on a classic shotgun camelback house.

Sustainability, affordability, replicability, and passive survivability are all critical elements of the Holy Cross Project, Berman says. Maximizing each element, particularly affordability, has been an ongoing challenge throughout the project's development. The prototype house, though designed to meet all these goals, incorporates some features and architectural details that the other houses will not, mainly because it's intended to be a showcase of green building and high-performance technology.

According to Berman, the concepts of sustainability and affordability/replicability are inversely related, one sometimes negating the other. "Navigating that path has been tremendously difficult but very informative," he says. The designs of the remaining four houses are based on the prototype house, but have been modified and streamlined to cut down on construction costs—aiming for about $150 per square feet—while maintaining their sustainability.

Global Green and the Holy Cross Neighborhood Association plan to sell each single-family house to former residents of the Lower 9th Ward for less than $200,000. Construction of the apartment building, expected to begin later this summer, will rely on low-income housing tax credits, so the organizations cannot limit renters to former Lower 9th Ward residents. But they will target advertising to those residents.

In addition to providing community services such as a grocery store, deli, and bank, Berman says the community center is being developed as a passive survival refuge for the entire Holy Cross neighborhood (not just the Global Green project area). This will allow residents to safely remain near their homes for about two weeks during any severe weather event or disaster, he explains.

According to Galante, the community center complex will also house a Sustainable Design and Climate Action Institute, which will focus on the impact of climate change on coastal communities and ways to address the problems that result.

For more information on Global Green USA's work in New Orleans and on the Holy Cross Project, visit