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World's biggest architectural names asked to help flood-ravaged New Orleans

Some of the biggest names in architecture, including Norman Foster, have been invited to help transform a key 7km-long river bank as part of the rebirth of flood-hit New Orleans.

Foster, Rem Koolhaas, Rafael Viñoly and Frank Gehry have all been asked to come up with ideas to turn the devastated east bank of the Mississippi River into an 'internationally prominent waterfront'.

The New Orleans Building Corporation (NOBC) wants to create a '21st-century urban landscape' on the dockland site between Jackson Avenue and the Industrial Canal in the city - an area which was among the worst-hit by Hurricane Katrina in August 2005.

At the centre of the 'vision' are proposals for a new 'uninterrupted and continuous linear green park' which would reconnect the city to the long-neglected riverfront.

The competition entrants must also produce designs for a world-class performance venue at the Louisa Street Wharf, a new hotel and two cruise-ship terminals.

New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin is so keen to attract the globe's greatest designers to the project that he has sent each of the architects on the hit-list a special hamper of gifts to get them 'into the New Orleans frame of mind'.

Among the treats arriving this morning at practices around the world will be a box of pralines, a can of French Market coffee and chicory, a cookbook by local chef Emeril Lagasse, a history of the city's urban landscape, an iPod full of New Orleans songs and 'Da Mayor in Your Pocket' - a gadget which plays recordings of Nagin's most memorable comments.

Once a shortlist of up to six design teams has been drawn up, the finalists will be asked to develop their ideas further and NOBC hopes to announce a winner before the end of November.

by Richard Waite

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