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The 17th St Canal Physical Model: or, One Proposal for a Hurricane Katrina Memorial
The 17th St Canal Physical Model

Trawling through the labyrinthine website of the U.S. Army of Corps of Engineers, always an enjoyable activity here at Pruned headquarters, you will eventually come across the Directional Spectral Wave Generator, an ultra-cool, hyper-sophisticated toy that can create “realistic three-dimensional waves in a laboratory environment for coastal projects that support coastal research and development and site-specific project studies.” Using this gadget you can make your own — what else — artificial waves: tsunamis, underwater explosions, anti-waves, cnoidal waves, and waves that can overturn hundred million dollar yachts.

So if you were ever to install one of these in your ex-urban sprawl, it will be the talk of the neighborhood. And if this one of a kind fountain were to be tele-choreographed by data sets from NOAA's Tsunami Center, your homestead will certainly be the talk of the county.

Towering tsunamis racing across the world's oceans simulated in real-time behind your MacMansion. There will be no need to watch CNN for updates on this major breaking news.

Or the rantings of Midwestern bloggers -- over their tax dollars being spent to replenish beaches inaccessible to the public and to protect coastal properties built or bought by idiots who know full well the risks and go begging for federal money (our money) when disaster strikes to rebuilt yet again on the same, no-less risky post-disaster sites, even when those wealthy bastards can afford to pay for the repairs! -- retransmitted to that fountain as swells and ripples.

Summertime backyard barbecues will never be the same.

The 17th St Canal Physical Model

And then there's the 10-ft and 5-ft Wave Flume Facility, and the Flood-Fighting Products Research Facility, and the Ice Engineering Flume Facility. What fun engineers must have during off-hours.

The 17th St Canal Physical Model

But let's move on to the main subject of this post, to a research facility that is better documented photographically: the 17th St Canal Physical Model.

The model measures 14,500 sq feet and replicates at 1:50 scale one of the New Orleans canals whose floodwalls failed in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. It was constructed to help develop “time histories of local wave and water level forces acting on flood protection structures, including flow over the levee or floodwall, wave overtopping, and static and dynamic pressure forces on the structures.” To explain why the levees failed miserably, in other words.

The 17th St Canal Physical Model

If there is ever going to be a design competition for a Hurricane Katrina Memorial — and there definitely will be one — someone should propose repurposing this canal model, its bold yellow pigment preserved, into a park-fountain-memorial-plaza, programmed to be flooded and drained periodically. It's the anti-WTC Memorial. Less of an absence and more of an event.

You can be sure that its shallow pools will be very popular with kids during the hot, muggy summers. They might even get a lesson in natural and man-made hydrology.

But with every artificially-generated wave cresting and rolling over New Orleans one immediately becomes aware of what is being memorialized, without the intermediation of silly, obtuse symbolism, which in only two years time people will need Fodor's to decipher, or the semiotic screams of a post-modernist banshee.

Hopefully the project site will be along the banks, because rather than purchasing an expensive wave generator, you simply let the fluctuating water level of the Mississippi River inundate this city in miniature.

Or the next Category 5 hurricane?

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