Ten years ago this month, Hurricane Katrina swept through the Gulf coast of the US, hitting New Orleans the hardest. Two years after the wake of this destruction, after seeing the city's lack of rebuilding progress firsthand, Hollywood star and architecture enthusiast Brad Pitt launched Make It Right, a project set to build 150 houses designed by 20 internationally renowned architects.
Over the past eight years, Make It Right has not only helped to rebuild the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans—the area struck the hardest by the disaster—but has also began to spread its work to Missouri, Montana, and New Jersey, with more projects coming soon. While the non-profit organization has had success in its endeavors, it has simultaneously faced a great deal of criticism.
In a recent interview with NOLA, Pitt discusses some of these criticisms, reflecting on the growth of the organization, and the changes it has made. Find out about Pitt’s evolving perspective, after the break.
Inspired by William McDonough’s Cradle-to-Cradle philosophy, Make It Right set out to build houses that were affordable, safe, and Platinum-LEED certified. As Pitt describes, the houses were meant to be for low-income families, but not "with the cheapest materials that will keep families in a poverty trap." Thus, houses were sold for an average of around $150,000 with financial assistance available. About $5.7 million in supplementary loans and up-front mortgage costs won’t need to be repaid, and will be covered by the organization’s funding, most of which comes from donations and federal grants.
Because of the homes’ high standards, the Lower Ninth Ward project cost about $26.8 million, a number that faced significant backlash.
Looking back, Pitt seems to agree that more homes could have been built at the overall cost of the project, but notes that quantity was never the priority. As far as future goals, he hopes that eventually the cost of such efficient housing can be brought down to the level of conventional housing.
"We went into it incredibly naïve," he said, "just thinking we can build homes—how hard is that?—and not understanding forgivable loan structures and family financial counseling and getting the right lots and HUD grants and so on and so forth. So it’s been a big learning curve."
Aside from the high price tag, other criticisms revolved around the idea that the project as a whole was too flashy, and that it was too centered on the celebrity status not only of Pitt, but also of the high-profile architects participating, such as Shigeru Ban, Frank Gehry, Kieran Timberlake, Hitoshi Abe, Morphosis, and more. Some at ArchDaily also had strong criticism of the New Orleans project, noting that the project had faulty planning, essentially because it rebuilt the old urban design without much change or effort to make the neighborhood appear as a cohesive whole.
However, Pitt explains, now that people understand more about the sustainable building practices of the project and its benign and reconstructive focus, this type of critique seems to be diminishing.
Pitt explains the project’s design, saying that, "the inhabitants, the families are the ones who designed the neighborhood […] They had the choices in front of them. They picked the houses to suit their needs. They picked the colors. They picked how it would work for their family. And, now, to start seeing the neighborhood take shape, to see the topography that has formed because of these individual choices [that have] now become the community’s choices is really exciting. Because it’s something we could have never planned for."
The eclecticism of the neighborhood has thus become its signature: As a “little oasis of color and solar panels,” Make It Right’s first project has evolved into a symbol of the growth since the tragedies in 2005, despite the issues it has faced.
Read more about Pitt’s optimism for the project and the organization, in NOLA’s interview, here.