A different kind of star architecture promises to transform a historic, low-income New Orleans neighborhood decimated by Hurricane Katrina. On Dec. 3, Brad Pitt's Make It Right (MIR) project unveiled 13 proposals for safe, affordable, and sustainable houses in the Lower Ninth Ward. The designs revisit traditional building types—such as the shotgun and the camelback—while introducing elevated frames, modern living spaces, climate-specific technology, and a variety of novel forms.
MIR was conceived in December 2006 as an experiment in the convergence of media, art, finance, community planning, and architecture to provide up to 150 new homes for displaced residents. Pitt commissioned Graft, the Berlin-based studio that designed his own house, to organize what has begun to resemble a latter-day Case Study House program for the Lower Ninth.
With the help of community members and sustainability guru William McDonough, Graft established stringent design guidelines (“Life Safety Standards”) that exceed Federal Emergency Management Agency requirements. Each MIR home will cost $150,000 and have an area of 1,200 square feet; porch space, backup generator, rooftop flood refuge, and LEED certification come standard. Graft also designed a house and coordinated the selection of architecture firms, each of which received a $10,000 stipend. John C. Williams Architects of New Orleans is the executive architect.
A central challenge was elevating the houses 5 feet off the ground—a Life Safety Standard—while limiting construction costs and preserving the region's traditional affinity between porch and street. Trahan Architects' house exemplifies the creative splicing of old and new concepts: Having identified roof design and indoor/outdoor space as core provisions of Southern architecture, the firm has proposed a sculptural roof of prefabricated metal panels that provides a generous shade canopy, privacy, and passive thermal circulation, as well as fittings for a solar array and rainwater harvesting. Pugh + Scarpa Architects created a split-level scheme that maximizes interior public living space. A porch wraps around three sides, while the patchwork cladding of wooden pallets filters light and heat.
MIR's website ( makeitrightnola.org) aims to “harness the potential of a global community that often doesn't have an outlet,” says Alejandra Lillo, a partner at Graft. Website visitors can donate virtual lights, solar panels, low-VOC paint, and other components by pledging money. “Any donation, from a sink to an entire house,” says Lillo, “will be the ultimate measure of success.” At press time, 27 houses had been fully funded, with construction to begin by next fall.
MAKE IT RIGHT ARCHITECTS
Billes Architecture, New Orleans
Concordia Architecture & Planning, New Orleans
Eskew+Dumez+Ripple, New Orleans
John C. Williams Architects, New Orleans
Trahan Architects, Baton Rouge, La.
BNIM Architects, Kansas City, Mo.
KieranTimberlake Associates, Philadelphia
Morphosis, Santa Monica, Calif.
Pugh + Scarpa Architects, Santa Monica, Calif.
Adjaye Associates, London
Constructs, Accra, Ghana
MVRDV, Rotterdam, the Netherlands
Shigeru Ban Architects, Tokyo