Sunday, November 13, 2011

Brad Pitt and the Lower 9th Ward

On the map of my last posting, you'll see the Lower 9th Ward, the portion of New Orleans that was the most devastated by Hurricane Katrina, with approximately 4000 homes lost. A new friend - who's a local resident - was kind enough to take me to see the Lower 9th Ward, which I had wanted to do. The whole area is cleared of debris by now, but it's not uncommon to still see reminders of the widespread destruction, like the scenes below.

Enter Brad Pitt, who visited the area and was dismayed by delays in government services and relief. Pitt formed a foundation called Make It Right, which in turn commissioned 13 architectural firms to design 150 green, affordable houses. I can't report how many houses have been built to date, but below are some of the several dozen that I saw. These are all designed and built for returning residents of the Lower 9th Ward who lost everything in Katrina.

These houses have actually become somewhat of a tourist attraction, with buses driving by much like the tours of Hollywood celebrity homes. But do you know that these houses have also attracted criticism from some architects and government officials, who say that they're not in keeping with New Orleans architectural tradition, and that if they were simpler and more generic, more could have been built sooner? 

What cheap shots! It's easy to stand on the sidelines and be a critic, but Brad Pitt will be remembered in New Orleans for seeing a need and actually fulfilling it. I salute him for making a difference in the world.

The photograph in the header of this posting first appeared in W magazine.


  1. Hello Mark:
    We agree entirely! How exciting these new houses look to be. The contemporary styling together with the bright paint colours seem to us to exemplify the spirit of New Orleans and would surely provide very attractive homes for those who were so badly affected and need to see 'phoenixes' rising from the ashes. Dramatic, bold and fit for purpose. Wonderful.

    Brad Pitt has been a frequent visitor to Hungary lately filming 'Zombies' in the 10th District of Budapest where the landscape is meant to look barren and devastated. Says it all!!

  2. I suppose that if a design draws no criticism at all, it can't really be very good. I also see the problem that if one modern design is nestled among older ones, it might stick out like a sore thumb.

    However, New Orleans was a special case. As your photograph dramatically shows, large areas were cleared. Cheap designs might have repopulated the area more quickly, but was that really the MAIN goal? These architects were taking advantage of the opportunity to turn marginal areas into showplaces, and bring them back into the world.

    Furthermore, small cheap homes or stage-set bogus historical designs would have lain the builders open to all other sorts of criticism, from Disney-fication to rebuilt areas that look like projects.
    --Road to Parnassus

  3. I'm with you, Mark. Say what we will about Hollywood and its actors - some of them actually have a conscience and feel a duty to do something with their vast sums of money other than drink, hang out in clubs and get arrested for DWI.

    LOVE these spry and colorful little houses.

    I admire Pitt and Jolie both, for their care and concern. And for putting their money to good use.

  4. Hourah for Brad Pitt! The new houses look quote interesting. It is great to bring life and people ( even tourists) back.

  5. Hello, Jane and Lance: The boldness and variety of these designs have brought life back to the Lower 9th Ward at a number of levels. While the new owners live in somewhat of a fishbowl, they seem to be enjoying the celebrity. I saw that for myself, and I also cite an article that appeared in the New York Times:

    The article includes another, very colorful photograph of the project.

  6. Hello, Parnassus - Yes, I think building fast psuedo-New Orleans architecture could have resulted in something that looked like a mix between Disney and Levittown. Incidentally, the houses that were destroyed by Katrina were by no means anything that would represent our idea of New Orleans architecture.

    It occurred to me, as I was preparing the last two postings, that the gingerbread houses that were errected in Algiers Point after the big fire there might also have been criticized for veering away from New Orleans tradition.

  7. Hi, Yvette - I'm glad you agree. I wish I could remember the name, but a well-known artist once likened art critics to eunuchs.

  8. Hi, Anni - When I took the ferry from Algiers to New Orleans, there were waterside posts that clearly showed how high the water had risen, and it was sobering to see! Nonetheless, I found that New Orleans had recovered much more than I had expected would be the case.

  9. Hello Mark - It is a pity a few more people do not follow in Brad Pitt's footsteps - well done to him.
    The eclectic mix in styles gives a more established look for the returning residents. Personally I think that they are very attractive.
    I notice that they have all been built on stilts as a protection against any further flooding.

  10. Hi Mark,
    How admirable! Bright uplifting colours, perfect for these homes, love them. As for those critics, I know the type. They spend a lot of energy talking negative, little energy acting positive. They will never be the ones initiating anything because they are too afraid of being critisized.

  11. Hi, Rosemary - One wonders whether some of the houses might have been built even higher. Here in Florida, new building codes require that one build above the flood level.

  12. Hi, Anyes - I like the colors, too! Your comment could be the start of a long dialogue. For me, it touches on the idea that positive thoughts, firmly held in mind, manifest into degrees of reality. Negative thoughts negate a whole universe of what might be.

  13. Although I am all for contexturalism, the widespread destruction here makes a case for a new building form. The criticism of Mr Pitt's generous efforts bring to mind the saying, "No good deed goes unpunished."

  14. Dear Classicist - Indeed! That also reminds me of the of the 7 phases of a project — wild enthusiasm, disillusionment, confusion, panic, search for the guilty, punishment of the innocent, and promotion of the non-participants.