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Jazzy Jewels porchAdapting architecture to positively interact with its physical environment is always a challenge. But it is a challenge that usually produces regionally distinct results that transcend the problems posed by the environment. Here in Louisiana, our climate is very wet and muggy. So, how did generations past cope with all that water?

One of the subtle ways of forcing water to runoff vernacular and plantation structures (besides hipped roofs) was to build sloped galleries with other minor architectural details. Most Creole-style plantations (Destrehan Plantation, for instance) featured wraparound galleries that effectively guarded the main structure from the elements. The wraparound galleries were slightly sloped, about 1/8 inch a foot, to facilitate water runoff from the occasional water that did make its way on to the porch (we get a lot of sideways rain with strong winds down here).

Vernacular Creole and Cajun structures, however, did not feature wraparound galleries, instead featuring one main porch off the front of the house. The vernacular porches were also sloped – assisted water runoff was much more important on these small structures because a greater degree of water was able to get onto the porch.

But a sloped porch with increased water runoff caused more architectural issues. In these simple vernacular structures, just about every aspect of the building was made out of wood, usually cypress. The foundational piers underneath the house were the only architectural facet that used brick. As you can see in the picture above of the porch on Jazzy Jewels, the pillars and railings are made of wood, which are highly susceptible to rot due to the amount of water, temperature, and general climate (even if they are made of cypress). Thus, notches were cut into the bases of the pillars to reduce the surface area that came into contact with porch runoff. This also allowed the base of the piers to dry quicker. A similar cut was made in the rail support.

A little ingenuity goes a long way, especially when you’re fighting a never-ending battle against a harsh, destructive climate like Louisiana’s.