My Utilitarian Acadiana

A designer ponders the way 'Cajun ingenuity' impacts regional architecture
Loveletters

Illustration by Sara Willia

I grew up next to a shipyard in a small village boasting three of them; no small achievement considering Loreauville has about 1,000 citizens. In addition to the shipyards, it had the first living cultural museum in the Acadiana area, a history of airboat development, a history of developing farming equipment and two outboard engine companies. Having been raised in a part of Acadiana that seemed the epicenter of creativity and entrepreneurship, it comes as no surprise that my career trajectory would be a multitude of design disciplines. I am a product of my environment.

As I drive around south Louisiana, I’m continually amazed at random applications of what most people call “Cajun ingenuity.” There are no shortages of old bathtubs half submerged in the ground sheltering the Virgin Mary. Drive around and you’ll find outdated satellite dishes being used as low-tech gazebos. A little further down the road, a galvanized metal tank (the kind used to provide cattle with water) is now a child’s swimming pool. I passed a house the other day and a trampoline was being used as a chicken coop.

In reality, it’s less about ingenuity and more about appropriation. The Cajun and Creole people have always been willing to take an object intended for a particular purpose and apply it towards a different usage: A washboard can be used as a musical instrument. An airboat is, basically, an airplane propeller attached to a car engine mounted onto a boat — the Turducken of transportation. Boudin could have easily been Boudreaux’s attempt at making Marie’s leftover rice dressing a finger food by placing it in sausage casing.
Early settlers of the area didn’t use mud in walls (bousillage) for visual effect.
“Dang Marie, that mud and moss combo, that’s pretty yeah!”

I don’t think so.

So why approach building a home in the most generic American manner possible: For appearances? A contemporary Acadian home can facilitate the rich experience of south Louisiana, not separate us from it.

It’s culturally relevant to look at existing regional archetypes and choose the best elements when designing a home. Adopt the social and cultural experiences from a camp. Borrow the durable materials of agricultural buildings for their cost effectiveness. Learn from offshore platforms’ infrastructure and adaptability. Retain historic building practices that are still applicable regarding the environment (floods, hurricanes and so on).

Why stop at archetypes? Appropriate industry itself. There is a unique abundance of laser-cutting and waterjet-cutting companies, shipbuilders, welders and other craftsmen in this region.

In the same way a window reveals a view of a bayou, sugarcane field or oak tree; creating a house can provide a view into Acadiana’s cultural landscape. It’s time to stop keeping up with the Joneses and start keep up with the Boudreauxs.

 

Joel Breaux is a designer in the disciplines of architecture, furniture design, public art, memorial design, educational installations and environmental/architectural graphics. His firms include Krivanek+Breaux/Art+Design (Chicago) and broDesign (Loreauville/Lafayette). Instagram: fauxbro1

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