Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Brad Pitt Won't Quit New Orleans: Six Houses Built, Twelve Dozen to Go

The Associated Press and report that Brad Pitt was on hand in New Orleans' Lower 9th Ward as families moved into the first six houses built through his Make It Right foundation for their first holidays since Hurricane Katrina. Pitt, who said he was really happy for the families, was still frustrated that the project has 144 more homes to build. But he forecast 100 homes in the area by the end of 2009. Some paragraphs from the article follow:

Pitt said that by December of 2009, the Lower 9th Ward should be one of the nation's largest "green" neighborhoods.

"This place that suffered such injustice and so much death can become one of the primary examples of a high-performance neighborhood. It really is amazing."

While the homes built by Pitt's project are more contemporary than the Creole cottages and shotgun-style homes typical of New Orleans, they incorporate some elements used in the area for generations, such as high ceilings and shaded porches.

The homes also have solar panels and other features that help cut energy bills by at least 75 percent, Pitt said. Other architectural elements address challenges of the area, including ventilation and mold- and termite-resistant materials.

Speaking of architecture, Elizabeth Sneed, a Los Angeles Times blogger, notes that Pitt's efforts will be covered in the January issue of Architectural Digest. She quotes the magazine's entire PR preview of the article. Much of it follows:

In its January ’09 issue, Architectural Digest catches up with Pitt when he returns to welcome Katrina victim Gloria Guy back to her new home built by the actor’s Make It Right Foundation.

A year after the New Orleans storm, Pitt was horrified at the lack of progress in repairing the damage it wreaked, especially in the devastated African-American populated Lower Ninth Ward. “I couldn’t believe nothing was going on. I recalled the pictures of people on roofs, begging for help and I couldn’t believe that this was our America.”

Determined to put his dual passions for architecture and environmentally-sound development to work, he and several partners started the Make It Right Foundation, whose aim is to build 150 homes for residents of the lower Ninth Ward -– one of the hardest hit during the ’05 hurricane. He invited architects from around the globe to New Orleans to submit sustainable -– and affordable housing solutions.

Pitt convened a meeting with the architects, residents and community leaders to establish guidelines for rebuilding the neighborhood. “I never had any idea that so many people would show up for this. The model works and it’s replicable.”

Although many thought the Lower Ninth Ward should be abandoned because its land was below sea level, Pitt argued that other wards -– some populated by white and middle class were on lower ground and nobody suggested abandonment there. “It seems to me that this is about fairness. We may have been designed equal, but we certainly weren’t born equal. I feel great happiness whenever we level the playing field.”

Six of the originally-planned 150 homes have already been built through the Foundation. Looking to the future, Pitt believes Make It Right is a model for projects around the world. “We’ve cracked something here … these houses redefine affordable housing … this is a proving ground for a bigger idea that could work globally. This project is not mine anymore. It’s so beyond me.”

But the day AD talked to Pitt, the day he helped Gloria Guy and her family move back in, crystallized why he put his passions and his celebrity behind the Foundation he created. “You have no idea,” he says, “what a high it is for me to see the delight on people’s faces when they see how these homes work.”

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