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New Orleans Lower Ninth Ward: The Pitt Houses Revisited – Can Brad Really Make it Right

Recently I read an article by Byron York that addressed the Make It Right houses in the lower 9th ward of New Orleans and it echoed the feelings I expressed when I saw these houses a few years ago and gave my own view in a post on this blog.

New Orleans Lower Ninth Ward: The Pitt Houses Revisited – Can Brad Really Make it Right

A Brad Pitt eco-home in New Orleans lower ninth ward.

A Brad Pitt eco-home in New Orleans lower ninth ward.

Mr. York talked about how they don’t fit into the architectural style of New Orleans but that anywhere else in the country people would love to have them. The houses are in my view unattractive and from an aesthetic standpoint I can’t imagine anyone wanting to live in them anywhere in the country, even the one designed by famous architect Frank Gehry. By no stretch of the imagination could you call these houses beautiful.

The writer observed that the neighborhood looks like a field of pastel-colored UFOs. I would add to that, they look like a field of crashed UFOs each one from a different planet since none of the homes seem to fit into any congruent style, they are just a hodge-podge of weird structures with strange angles supposedly to make optimal use of the sun and environment. But not are these homes unattractive their strange unconventional shapes make them difficult to build.

I have to commend Brad Pitt for starting this project and committing to finishing them. Apparently it was slated that 150 of these houses be built and already they’ve finished 100 of them. But here is the problem, the people that these houses are intended for don’t really want to live in them and as such is causing a drag on the economy in the lower 9th ward.

Now it’s being discovered that some of the materials that were used to construct the homes are deteriorating more quickly than they should, especially some new type of glass infused wood used for steps and decking that was supposed to last for 40 years or so. Hm… glass infused wood. I guess that sounds like a good idea but obviously is not since that wood after only a few years is already rotting.

Here’s an idea to really “make it right” Mr. Pitt: why not build the next 50 homes in the traditional New Orleans style? A lot of the homes in the 9th ward were built in such a manner and these types of homes are all over New Orleans by the thousands in neighborhood after neighborhood. People love buying them, fixing them up and living in them for their beauty, style, durability and simplicity.

And guess what, back a hundred years ago when these were built they were done so using the latest building materials and techniques. They are energy efficient with high ceilings, and windows and doors that open front to back to allow for a perfect circulation of air. And you can build these homes nowadays from scratch with the latest green technology and building materials.

My question is why does green or environmentally friendly have to mean ugly? I don’t get it. Would it not have been better to build a traditional New Orleans home that would be green and energy efficient to show people that green does not have to mean ugly, that you can build one that looks like an attractive conventional home that fits into a neighborhood and not some outlandish thing like looks like a crashed UFO to fulfill some environmental agenda?

So, I really want to encourage the folks at Make It Right to really do the right thing and give the people in the 9th ward what they really want that they can be proud of and really want to live in: a good, sturdy home that looks and feels like New Orleans. And keep the already built Make It Right homes as an example of what you don’t do when rebuilding a neighborhood.


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Posted in Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans Culture, New Orleans Life, New Orleans Neighborhoods.

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2 Responses

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  1. Steve Janke says

    “My question is why does green or environmentally friendly have to mean ugly?” Actually, it kinda does. It’s all about thermodynamics. You have a pile of stuff that makes up a house. A pile is not a house. You have to organize the pile to make it into a house. Organizing a pile is reducing entropy (chaos) but that can only happen by expending energy. For instance, hammering two pieces of wood together requires energy, but now the two pieces are not random junk but a functioning joint. Make sense so far? Many many combinations of the pile that are just a pile, but only a few that are a house. Lots of energy required to pick one of those few arrangements that is a “house”. But energy is BAD. You make CO2 and global warming and sweating polar bears and blah blah blah. OK, so you’re committed to minimal energy. Fine. But that restricts your choices in what combination you can pick — essentially you are committed to a minimal reduction of entropy, sufficient to reach a minimal level of “houseness”. Paint? Don’t need it, not actually necessary, expends energy, better to leave whatever random colors are in the wood and metal. Individual shingles? Big old grey slabs of whatever don’t need to be cut and applied and nailed individually — less energy today means more Arctic ice in 100 years, or so some computer model says. And so on. So you end up with this Soviet-style atrocity. It is a functional house (well, the wood windows are breaking down, but you know, POLAR BEARS!) but that’s all it is. Functional. Anything above functional and you are committing a crime against the environment and should go to jail (which probably looks about as appealing as that house).

  2. Richard Bienvenu says

    Ha ha ha… Thanks for your comment. Never quite saw it in that light.

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