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Inevitably when you have visited a place and its people, the horror of hearing of death and destruction there is magnified.

I spent a week at Tulane University in New Orleans in the 1980s doing Rolf Harris-type drawing on the spot along with fellow architect/cartoonist Forrest Wilson. It was one of the most stimulating weeks of my life, not just because of the Spanish/ French buildings in the old French Quarter with their filigree balconies, or the authentic jazz at Preservation Hall, but also the Southern hospitality and friendliness of the people.

The downside was the ugly, shoddy housing estates outside the tourist areas which were populated entirely by poor blacks. The (white) students were horrified to learn that I had strolled naively through these areas and were amazed that I had not been mugged or murdered. I felt they somewhat revelled in their scare stories.

Following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, I see some architects like John Thompson and Daniel Libeskind have already jumped on to the bandwagon and pronounced about the rebuilding of the city. Thompson calls for 'spiritual, cultural and economic restructuring', and sees this as an 'opportunity' to create 'a new kind of city' (yawn). Libeskind comes out with one of his perfunctory musical analogies, suggesting a jazz paradigm for rebuilding. Do these architects know New Orleans? What qualifies them to pontificate in this way?

I suspect the people of New Orleans, if they were consulted, would like to see their city made safer at last, the levees strengthened, good low-cost housing provided and the historic core restored. But if Ground Zero is anything to go by it will be commerce that will dictate. Following the looting and riots there will probably be plenty of new gated communities for the well-todo, as well as hotels and casinos. I hope I am wrong.

Louis Hellman Londn W3

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