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Point/Counterpoint: New Orleans on Brad Pitt's Make It Right

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[Image of GRAFT and Morphosis houses via The New York Times]

The New York Times took its Cultured Traveler column to "the Brad Pitt Houses" in New Orleans' Lower Ninth Ward this weekend, and the resulting buzz is that some people in the neighborhood are unhappy with the affordable, subsidized houses commissioned and built by Pitt's Make It Right Foundation. (LA-based firms Morphosis, Gehry Partners, Pugh + Scarpa, and Atelier Hitoshi Abe have contributed designs.) Writer Fred A. Bernstein quotes James Dart, a Manhattan-based, New Orleans-raised architect, who calls out the designs for "not [being] grounded in the history of New Orleans architecture." A Pitt House neighbor, who lives in a non-Make It Right house, compares the houses to New York's skyscrapers, because they're elevated to withstand flooding (except for Mayne's Float House, which floats when it floods). Bernstein agrees: "The goal of porches is to create a sense of community, and that’s hard to do when neighbors and passersby are literally overshadowed."

The Atlantic's Wayne Curtis was far more forgiving of Make It Right's work this month in an article about small private developers rebuilding New Orleans. The Times' "sprawling, angular buildings in bold hues not usually seen outside a gelateria" are The Atlantic's "modern, colorful, and modestly sized homes" (Although Curtis does add the cluster of houses looks "like a farm where they grow houses for Dwell magazine." Zing! He doesn't like that the project has clustered so many distinctive structures in one area, comparing the effect to "an orchestra of timpani."). Curtis lists the criteria given to Make It Right architects, which were developed with displaced residents' input: "use the city’s existing narrow lots...elevate houses out of the way of future flooding and include rooftop access to simplify rescue; feature prominent porches or front stoops for socializing; and use materials that are tough enough to survive hurricanes but that also approach “cradle to cradle” reusability." And he points out that a design by Dutch firm MVRDV, which "looked not unlike the houses that had collapsed after Katrina," is the only one that hasn't been picked by a buyer yet.

Make It Right might be a little good for New Orleans and a little bad, but in all the discussion, let's not overlook this totally weird fact from Curtis in the Atlantic article: "Brad Pitt is the city's most innovative and ambitious housing developer."
· Brad Pitt’s Gifts to New Orleans [NYT]
· Houses of the Future [The Atlantic]