When architects design a blueprint for better, they’re determining how to make the greatest impact with their work. In the case of the Southeast Louisiana Veterans Health Care System—a New Orleans Veterans Affairs (VA) hospital commissioned post-Hurricane Katrina—its architects were presented with an opportunity to turn devastation into a pillar for the community. Their vision for the new facility went beyond its functional purpose as a hospital, ensuring it could also be a stronghold in times of disaster.

Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, damaging countless homes, roads and businesses. It caused so much destruction along the Gulf Coast that it is now classified as the US’s most costly hurricane. The city’s VA hospital was in its path; soon after the storm hit, operations and care for patients came to a debilitating halt when the main power was lost and the backup generators flooded.

In the aftermath, it was evident that the architecture community needed to rethink how hospitals are built. If the community depends on hospitals to take care of the most vulnerable, the hospital itself cannot be vulnerable in the greatest time of need. According to NBBJ, the architecture firm tasked with the project, this hospital has a “five-day capability to operate independently” without outside support during a disaster.

It includes a stronger perimeter, built to take on force and prevent collapse. Operational facilities, like the generators that were impacted by Hurricane Katrina, are now housed on a higher floor to keep them more protected. The emergency room was even moved to the second floor, with a ramp that can act as a boat ramp. Lessons learned from this project will improve hospitals in potentially vulnerable locations across the country.

New Orleans is known for many things, including soul food, street parades, jazz, and resilience. Instead of seeing devastation, they saw an opportunity to improve their healthcare for generations to come. A decade after it was debilitated by Katrina, the New Orleans VA celebrates their fully re-imagined hospital; a blueprint for better in every sense.

For more stories on great design, check out the third annual I Look Up Film Challenge. AIA has invited filmmakers and architects to team up and share their stories. Film submissions will be accepted until August 13; sign up now at ilookup.org.

All submitted films will be reviewed by an esteemed panel of judges from the media and architecture world and then shared with the public for a special People’s Choice vote. Winners will be screened at the Architecture and Design Film Festival, and win cash and distribution prizes. To join the conversation, use the hashtag #ilookup on Twitter and Instagram.

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