By Katherine Carlson, a writer and editor based in St. Paul, Minn.
Can cutting-edge digital manufacture and flexible infrastructure make it on Main Street? Actor Brad Pitt, a film blockbuster in his own right, thought it could. Pitt’s longstanding interest in architecture and his attachment to New Orleans led him to commission designs from 13 architecture firms for affordable, environmentally sound housing to replace homes lost in the impoverished Lower Ninth Ward, which was demolished by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
The criteria: Each firm designed a 1,2000-square-foot house for $150,000, built five to eight feet off the ground. Each house had to have three bedrooms and a front porch, as well as green building elements that would reduce upkeep costs by at least 75 percent. Pitt contributed $5 million to the Make It Right project, as did philanthropist Steve Bing, with a goal of building 150 houses during the next two years. Architects donated their services, including KieranTimberlake. The results, announced in early December, illustrated the range of possibilities—houses that float in floodwaters, are cooled and shaded with native vines, and save money with tankless water heaters, solar panels and low-flush toilets.
Pitt wanted to get people talking about the possibilities of the new architecture. “That was certainly one of the benefits of this exercise,” he says. “There is no other reason to call on these great minds if you’re just going to shackle them.”