The Movie Star and the Power of Architecture

<p>Actor Brad Pitt's efforts to rebuild housing in New Orleans are not just flashy PR, but rather a reminder that architecture can make a difference, according to this article from <em>Metropolis</em>.</p>
March 20, 2008, 8am PDT | Nate Berg
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"Since when do movie stars have a better sense of architecture's possibility than most architects? Post-Katrina New Orleans-like post-9/11 Ground Zero-was supposed to be a moment when architecture would prove its relevance. Instead, architects and planners came in like the cavalry, full of expert opinions about what New Orleans should look like and where it should (or more to the point, shouldn't) be rebuilt. The result was that rather than providing houses, they seemed-in the name of good planning-to be taking them away. 'It felt to me that architecture was trying too hard to make its point,' remembers Steven Bingler, founder of Concordia Architecture & Planning, in New Orleans. And was anyone really surprised? Architecture has always had trouble connecting with the masses. There's that famous, perhaps apocryphal, ­statistic-architects design two percent of American homes-and the bald fact of the contemporary American landscape, with its big-box stores, chain restaurants, and bland condominiums."

"But if architecture has failed society, Pitt never heard the news."

"With Make It Right, Pitt-founding a new organization this time, not just being a spokesperson-has massively multiplied Global Green's effort, setting an initial goal of building 150 houses. Architecturally, it's equally ambitious, with 13 different designs offered for each homeowner to choose from. All were encouraged to include sustainable features like solar panels and rainwater collectors, and they'll be safe from future flooding-raised up off the ground, with escape hatches to the roof and waterproof safes for valuables. Whenever possible, they'll use Cradle to Cradle–certified materials (although early talk of the houses themselves being certified hasn't worked out). At press time, Make It Right had raised more than $10 million, on top of the $10 million committed by Pitt and Hollywood producer Steve Bing. It is enough to subsidize 70 homes, with construction on the first group of five to begin this month."

"If Pitt can pull this off, he will have transformed a swath of the Lower Ninth Ward, a neighborhood symbolic of everything rotten in America, into one of the world's most design-intensive sustainable communities. Modeling it after the Case Study Houses, Pitt wants Make It Right's architecture program to raise the bar for 'answering a new set of challenges,' as he puts it. 'It can be such a proving ground for so many things. It's ready for the next evolution. We can actually advance the discussion and practice of intelligent design-and I'm not talking about creationism.' If all that succeeds, and the Lower Ninth Ward does indeed become for the single-family green house what Seaside was for New Urbanism or Pacific Palisades was for California Modernism, then our assessment may need to shift: rather than architecture's most fam­ous dilettante, Pitt could become one of its most important patrons."

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Published on Wednesday, March 19, 2008 in Metropolis Magazine
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