Human-environment-technology interactions and the lower Mississippi River delta

Assistant Professor of Sustainability, Meredith Sattler, is conducting research on human-environment-technology interactions within the constructed system of the lower Mississippi River delta. Pursued simultaneously through nested design studios, seminars, and independent scholarly research, this work has been supported by the LSU Coastal Sustainability Studio (CSS), a University-wide research initiative focusing on collaborative trans-disciplinary proposals for coastal Louisiana geographies. Through the studio, faculty and students from the Schools of The Coast and the Environment, Earth Sciences, Renewable and Natural Resources, Engineering, Architecture, Landscape Architecture, Law, Economics, Geology, Geography and Anthropology collaborate on regional to community scale research. Her work through the CSS is part of a larger research trajectory examining methodologies and implications of designing within complex constructed environmental systems.

As a follow-up to her 2011 presentation at the ARCC Conference “Learning from Lafitte: An Interdisciplinary Place-based Approach to Architectural Research and Education, which mated an NSF funded Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) framework with the 1977 Venturi, Scott Brown, Izenour research methodology developed in “Learning from Las Vegas,” she and her students presented their findings to the City Council of Lafitte, Louisiana. Numerous strategies for designing built infrastructures that adapt to fluctuating water levels, which emphasize the integration of ecological and socio-cultural dynamics, time, and feedback loops (essential considerations within the dynamic deltaic system, but often overlooked), were presented to suggest that long-term resilience may not be possible relying entirely on structural (levee) flood control mechanisms. A set of design proposals tailored to the geography were also presented, which catalyzed an engaging discussion about the trade-offs between structural and non-structural flood protection infrastructures. Recently, Lafitte received news that their ring-levee proposal was not included in the State of Louisiana 2012 Coastal Master Plan, which means the town will have to self-fund their proposed ring-levee, or re-consider alternative flood control measures similar to those developed as part of the research trajectory.

In the last year, she continued to advance this work through a collaboration with Carol Friedland, Assistant Professor of Construction Management, and a team of trans-disciplinary students, where they examined the relationship of flood depths, building codes and community sustainability. The project was initiated by the realization that currently, two regulated standards guide building design in coastal areas:  one set protects against flood events and the other protects against wind events. Under these divergent standards a normal building (e.g. home or business) experiences a 45% probability of being destroyed by a flood that exceeds its designed expected life,i while the same building faces only an 8% probability of being destroyed by a wind speed that exceeds its designed expected lifeii

Storm surge is the single most destructive force to buildings; currently, it is not economically feasible to construct buildings to withstand these flood loads, the only viable alternative is to elevate buildings above the surge. In response, she and her team developed a new methodology that more accurately determine flood elevations for higher flood levels and longer return periods and then utilized these new design elevations to project possible sustainable and resilient community design solutions for Grand Isle, and other vulnerable coastal communities. The design embraces, rather than ignores, natural cyclical disturbances. Through testing the architectural implications of their teams’ flood elevations in context they proposed a community transformation responsive to landscape changes typical of barrier islands.


Images were created with the assistance of LSU Architecture student Carolina Rodriguez and Landscape Architecture student Elsy Interiano

Prof. Sattler is currently working on an analysis of the State of Louisiana 2012 Coastal Master Plan development process and is examining points of contact between sustainable design frameworks and the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. This research is supported by the State of Louisiana Board of Regents.

(i) Federal Emergency Management Agency. (2006). “Recommended residential construction for the Gulf coast.” Rep. FEMA P-550, Washington, DC.

(ii) ASCE. (2010). “Minimum design loads for buildings and other structures.” ASCE, Reston, VA, 7–10.

(iii) Federal Emergency Management Agency. (2009). Multi-hazard loss estimation methodology, flood model: HAZUS–MH MR4 technical manual, Department of Homeland Security, Washington, DC.