Arch. Myriam B. Mahiques Curriculum Vitae

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Make it Right. The results of Brad Pitt´s efforts to rebuild New Orleans

A typical New Orleans style

In December 3, 2007, The New York Times published about Brad Pitt’s efforts in New Orleans reconstruction.
13 Architecture firms were commissioned by him,  to help rebuild New Orleans’s impoverished Lower Ninth Ward, one of the neighborhoods hit hardest by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
“ The project, called Make It Right, calls for building 150 affordable, environmentally sound houses over the next two years. In a telephone interview from New Orleans, where he plans to present the designs today, Mr. Pitt said the residents of the neighborhood had been homeless long enough. “They’re coming up on their third Christmas,” he said.
Mr. Pitt said he had been attached to New Orleans for more than a decade. “I’ve always had a fondness for this place — it’s like no other,” he said. “Seeing the frustration firsthand made me want to return the kindness this city has shown me.”
Rather than bemoan the slow pace of redevelopment in the Ninth Ward, Mr. Pitt said he decided to address the problem directly by teaming with William McDonough, the green design expert; Graft, a Los Angeles architecture firm; and Cherokee, an investment firm based in Raleigh, N.C., that specializes in sustainable redevelopment. John Williams of New Orleans is the executive architect for the project.” 

Three years after, I’ve read about this project, it seems one of  the houses that was not selected was the design by Morphosis. The reasons are not clear. But, maybe we need to remember that in 2005/6, Los Angeles Times was publishing most people were returning to their homes, they wanted them fixed, and there were communitarian works to upgrade the damaged structures. People wanted their old houses, no matter how. Remembrances, urban collective memories, probably those were the main reasons.
This year, I found a post by Kelsey Keith called “ Brad Pitt and the Trouble with Vernacular Architecture”, a critic about the actor trying to impose the modern Californian aesthetics to a community with roots in Africa and Haiti. The results, are not what he expected.
“The Make It Right team has commissioned influential modern architects Thom Mayne ofMorphosis, KieranTimberlake, Shigeru Ban) to reinterpret the vernacular tradition in the Lower Ninth Ward. And as modern architects, these firms do excellent work. However, when considered in the fabric of a community, the results can seem more like “individual sculptural objects rather than as part of an urban ensemble,” which makes for, as Labine argues, a “bad urbanism.” The new homes distract from the existing culture and building traditions of the very city they are being built to support.
And though modern design enthusiasts (of which, generally, I am one) have been quick to praise the project — which is building ‘em lean, mean, and green, after all — design professionals with ties to New Orleans are hesitant. The Times quotes James Dart, a New Orleans-born, New York-based architect who describes the houses as “alien, sometimes even insulting,” adding, “the biggest problem is that they are not grounded in the history of New Orleans architecture.” Local broker Jennifer Pearl chimes in: “Brad has the very best intentions. However, had he come here with houses that looked like what had been here before, he probably could have had four times, five times as many houses up by now.”
Judge it for yourself.
Pictures by and
Make it Right
Brad Pitt Commissions Designs for New Orleans
By Robin Pogrebin . Published: December 3, 2007
Brad Pitt and the Trouble with Vernacular Architecture

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