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ASU engineer on rebuilding after a hurricane: First, sweep the porch

September 7, 2017

Starting small is key to disaster recovery, says expert who lived through Katrina and created a firm to help rebuild New Orleans

When Tony Lamanna bought his home in New Orleans, the civil engineer discovered a hatchet in the attic. The hatchet was stored there to chop an escape hole through the roof if the house flooded up to the attic. It’s a Gulf Coast precaution. When he sold the house, it stayed there.

Lamanna, now an associate professor in Arizona State University’s School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment, was teaching at Tulane University when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005.

When Tulane started shutting down its engineering programs, Lamanna stayed and started an engineering firm to assist rebuilding the city. His expertise eventually grew to encompass building repair, rehabilitation, retrofit and adaptive reuse.

Like the rest of the nation, he watched this past month as Hurricane Harvey slammed into metro Houston, covering 70 percent of Harris County’s 1,800 square miles with 1.5 feet of water, killing about 50 people, damaging or destroying 200,000 homes and displacing more than a million people.

“This is going to be a massive, massive cleanup process,” Texas Gov. Greg Abbott told “Good Morning America.” “This is not going to be a short-term project. This is going to be a multi-year project for Texas to be able to dig out of this catastrophe.”

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner made a public plea over the holiday weekend.

“Over 95 percent of the city is now dry,” he told NBC News. “And I'm encouraging people to get up and let's get going.”

It turns out that’s the best advice anyone can give. ASU Now spoke with Lamanna about first steps and next steps. 

Question: Large-scale — you’ve got to get the power and water on before you do anything. What are the next steps after that?

Answer: There’s a lot going on there. Probably if your house was flooded the power company is going to pull the meter because they don’t want you just turning the power back on. You’re probably going to need a licensed electrician to certifty your house before they give you your meter back.

It’s “start inward.” It’s such a monumental task for cleaning up after. What do you do when the city is destroyed? The best piece of advice I got came from a friend of mine in New Orleans who is German. He had a mother who lived through World War II. She lived in Dresden, so the city was destroyed. What do you do? Take care of your house. Sweep the porch. Sweep the debris. Fix what you can fix in your house. Then you help the neighbors with their house. Then you help the neighborhood. And you just go out from there. You have to start small. This is what happened in Katrina. You see it when there’s disasters ... there’s going to be some level of shock there, but you have to start doing something.

Q: What are city officials looking at at this point? They want to get the trash picked up, all the debris that has been hauled out to the curb.

A: There’s going to be staging areas. In New Orleans they have West End Boulevard where they just immediately piled everything. ... After Katrina there were houses in the middle of the road, so you had to get stuff cleared to move through the area. They need to have first responders able to get to people, so they’re clearing a path.

They’re checking out their infrastructure. A lot of neighborhoods flooded after the fact because they had to relieve pressure on levees.

Q: There was still flooding as of this week. People are still getting flooded out.

A: That’s probably their number one concern right now, that they don’t have failure in the infrastructure system, in the water control system. If a levee goes, everyone gets flooded. So it’s right now it’s selective flooding to relieve pressure. I’m pretty sure the backs (of the levees) aren’t armored. You armor the front for water lapping up against it. Often the back side only has grass. If it overtops, it’s going to erode. It’s funny because the Army Corps considers grass to be armor.

Q: The governor of Texas said it’s going to take years to recover from this. Is that accurate?

A: Actually it might be even more because of the magnitude. The metro New Orleans area when Katrina hit was 1.5 million (people). What’s Houston — 6.5 million? And this is not just Houston; this is Beaumont, Port Arthur, this is major.

Officials are probably focusing on infrastructure right now. As much as they need to take care of residents, getting the port facilities back in business, getting the business infrastructure back in place is important. Getting the schools open; after Katrina, most schools didn’t think about opening for a semester, let alone a year. ... Schools are important, because you’re going to start losing professionals who have kids. ... That’s a big thing.

Q: There’s talk of buying people out and not letting them build in certain areas.

A: This is another discussion. Part of the puzzle is what do you do next? It’s politically insensitive to say, “We’re not rebuilding that area” in general because those areas tend to be poorer. ...

I feel that could potentially be a plan for next time, that we don’t rebuild certain areas. You make the plans now for the next time, because you’ve got these large swaths of the city where we’re providing police protection, fire protection, and you’ve got the infrastructure, water, sewer and very few residents. I think there’s an opportunity — not for this time, but for next time — for Houston to say, “We need to further develop this spillway; when the water gets high we can open it up and flood these grassy plains or baseball fields or something,” and not allow construction there.

Answers edited for clarity and length. Top photo: Flooding in Port Arthur, Texas. Photo by SC National Guard (170831-Z-AH923-023) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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ASU's Pyracantha Press publishes fine books and special limited editions.
Among Pyracantha creations: Bill of Rights printed on pulp containing US flags.
September 7, 2017

Pyracantha Press uses collection of metal machines and moveable type to produce expressive, limited-edition works of art

There are thousands of printers, tablets and computers on the campuses of the nation's most innovative university.

But tucked away inside an underground classroom on Arizona State University's Tempe campus sits a relic that has its roots in Gutenberg.

It’s a breadth of heavy metal presses and moveable type, collectively weighing in at an estimated 30 tons. It occupies 2,000 square feet of space fanned out over two locations, and includes 3,000 cases of metal and wood type — enough to fill several semi-trucks.

“This collection gives students and academics an incredible resource for teaching and creative research,” said Daniel Mayer, director of Pyracantha Press in ASU’s Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts.

“The work we do here is super labor-intensive, and every project is unique and a work of art.”

Most of the book projects are by invitation only, and each production can range from one to five years. Print runs can vary from 10 to 200 copies, depending on project complexity, handwork and duration.

“A lot of the projects we choose are culturally significant and interdisciplinary,” Mayer said. “We are very selective in our choice, often picking subjects that might otherwise not see the light of day.” 

printed pages of paper made with clothing fibers

These pieces were created from paper 
made from clothing that refugees were
wearing when they fled their homelands.

Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now


Pyracantha has produced approximately 30 original books for national and international poets, artists, musicians, ceramists, historians and historical figures. They’ve also re-created works by William Shakespeare, James Dickey, Rita Dove and ASU’s own Alberto Rios, Arizona's poet laureate. 

Kurt Weiser, ASU art professor and ceramist, is Pyracantha’s newest author. He’s excited about a special limited-edition book of his work, which Mayer said will be published later this year.

“It’s different than ceramics. I don’t have to fire it. It doesn’t shrink. It doesn’t crack, and it doesn’t peel off,” Weiser said. “What you see is what you get. There’s certainly a craft to the printing process, and right now I’m just watching and listening.”

The two have been collaborating on the project since February, which includes dialogue, proofing sessions, prototyping, cutting, folding and constant trouble shooting, according to Mayer.

“It has to be precise,” Mayer said. “Everything is hand-produced and hand-built. That’s what makes our books special.”

Originally established as a letterpress shop in 1981 inside of the Art Building, Pyracantha Press publishes fine books and special limited editions for individuals, collectors and special collections, including the Getty Center, Yale University, Klingspor Museum in Germany, the Library of Congress and others. The press is self-supporting and receives sustaining gifts from the Hatchfund and the Philip C. Curtis Charitable Trust.

In 2016, ASU was gifted the Adam Repan Petko Type Collection, making ASU’s type collection the largest at any institution of higher education in North America. Twenty years prior, he donated 10 tons of type to the book arts program and Pyracantha Press.

Despite its massive size and weight, the press is capable of producing expressive works of art, said Professor Emeritus John Risseeuw, who came to ASU in 1980 to establish a book arts program within the printmaking area of the School of Art in what was then known as the Herberger College of the Arts.  

“In the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, this equipment was being offloaded by the industry as equipment was upgraded, so people like us, collectors, took it in so it wouldn’t be put in the trash and started making art with it,” Risseeuw said.

Risseeuw added that this type of press is expanding commercially and gaining popularity with universities nationwide. He says the fascination remains because of the sentimentality factor and continues to be "a medium of expression."

Video by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

Some of the titles in the Pyracantha catalog have been spectacular. They include:

  • Venus and Adonis” — a 1984 edited version of William Shakespeare’s narrative poem. Includes an introduction by John Doebler, with two lithographs by Leonard Lehrer. Bound in leather and maroon linen.
  • The Bill of Rights — a five-color broadside of the text of the Bill of Rights to commemorate the bicentennial of the document on Dec. 15, 1991. It was printed on 100 percent rag handmade paper from pulp containing cotton American flags.
  • PETRIfied forEAST” — a 1994 collaboration with three poets and artists from Budapest and Hungary on the theme of freedom and oppression.
  • Eco Songs” — a song cycle based on poetic works by Chief Dan George, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Stevie Smith, Alfonsina Storni, Li Po and the Book of Job. Published in 2000, it includes an artist’s book constructed of plant fibers from around the world, a CD of music and a colophon about the making of the book.

Pyracantha will remain in good hands, said Mayer, now in his 30th year at ASU. Part of his charge is to continue the tradition by training the next generation of printers — people like design major Hailey Tang, who has a passion for books.

The 21-year-old Herberger Institute junior is not only being mentored by Mayer but is the president of A Buncha Book Artists, an ASU student-run organization of interdisciplinary artists and writers working in the contemporary artist book movement.

Tang said their generation has transitioned into a digital lifestyle where many believe books have become obsolete. Tang said, however, that book and printmaking can never be fully replaced by the digital medium.

“I find that as a designer and artist that books are a huge part of how I tell other peoples’ stories and communicating ideas,” Tang said. “I hope that I can keep the book arts alive in the future and make others realize how it is needed.”


Top photo: The basement press room of the ASU Art Building houses Pyracantha Press and contains more than 30 tons of metal- and wood-type for use on its several presses. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now