Before building in New Orleans’, Make It Right, GRAFT Architects and William McDonough drafted design guidelines to advise the architects’ design process. These guidelines addressed safety, affordability and sustainability as well as lot size, typography and other factors specific to New Orleans’ Lower 9th Ward.

In Depth

You can download the full guidelines for Design Round One and Design Round Two here.


Below is a summary of the design guidelines prepared for architects donating designs to Make It Right’s work in New Orleans’ Lower 9th Ward.


  • Houses should be elevated 5’ to 8’ above grade.
  • Houses should be structurally engineered to withstand 130mph winds and flood surges.
  • Materials must resist water damage and mold.
  • Hurricane resistant roofing, siding and window systems should be utilized.
  • Rooftops should provide safe havens during catastrophic floods.


  • Design houses to meet or exceed LEED for Homes, NAHB, Earthcraft and Energy Star certification standards
  • Specify materials that resist moisture and pests using the most benign methods possible
  • Prioritize passive design techniques: solar, ventilation, high ceilings, shading devices
  • Incorporate active cooling, heating and energy-recovery ventilation systems working in synergy with the local climate
  • Respect local architectural precedent with forms influenced by climate-driven solutions
  • Design construction systems for disassembly and reuse
  • Incorporate south-facing roofs for active solar installations
  • Provide rainwater collection, capture stormwater flows on site (rain gardens, street-side bioswales)
  • Prefer regionally sourced materials with design and manufacture that protects native environmental health
  • Provide diversity of design solutions driven by owner choice
  • Prioritize use of readily available interior materials and finishes which support human health
  • Prefer materials in closed loop biological or technical cycles
  • Eliminate jobsite and life cycle waste to the greatest extent possible
  • Fund solar hot water and solar electric installations using group purchasing power
  • Specify appliances and fixtures at highest level of Energy Star certification
  • Fund gray-water reuse installations using group purchasing power
  • Specify fixtures and fittings with lowest water use profiles
  • Use design to support the Lower 9th Ward’s goal to become a model for the nation
  • Specify materials and systems that require minimal maintenance
  • Design to accommodate changing uses and improvements in technology over time
  • Design building systems that are easy to operate and can be maintained by local technicians
  • Create site design using locally sourced native and bio-adaptive plants
  • Allocate space for household recycling, composting
  • Design homes to be adaptable to changing owner needs (extended family, live / work, ADA)
  • Support neighborhood efforts to establish community centers (parks, commerce, transit links, building supply / reuse store)


Initial budget goal:
$200 per square foot for the first prototype home
$130 per square foot for all replicable models thereafter

Base construction costs include:

  • Structure
  • Foundation
  • Finishes
  • Millwork
  • MPE systems
  • Appliances
  • Plumbing
  • Lighting fixtures

Site preparation costs and atypical building systems (solar systems and graywater collection) were not included within the base construction cost.

Lessons Learned

At Make It Right, budget determines changes in design, materials and building systems. We try to maintain a balance between cutting costs to keep homes affordable and altering design intent - but when these goals are in conflict, our priority must be affordability for low-income communities. When a cost increase is incurred, we analyze the expense to see how quickly it is offset by energy and maintenance savings over time. As with any project designed by an architect, there is bound to be push and pull between the designer's vision of the building and the cost of construction. We have worked through these issues with our architects by working closely with them through the value-engineering process.