The Make It Right Foundation, a New Orleans–based housing charity, which was founded by actor Brad Pitt in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, has been hit with a class action lawsuit for allegedly selling residents “defectively and improperly constructed homes.” Since launching in 2007, the foundation has built more than 100 affordable homes in New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward, the area most devastated by flooding when the levees broke. The initiative attracted some of the biggest names in architecture, including Pritzker Prize–winners Frank Gehry, Shigeru Ban, Thom Mayne, and Alejandro Aravena, and was lauded in the press for its commitment to building green. However, within a few short years, many of the homes began experiencing serious structural issues as well as mechanical system failures, roof leaks, and black mold growth. According to the lawsuit, Make It Right was made aware of these defects by their own engineers but failed to notify homeowners, who would have been protected by the state’s New Home Warranty Act. The suit goes on to accuse the foundation of fraud, contract breaches, and unfair trade practices. “While the citizens of the 9th Ward are grateful to Brad Pitt they were forced to file this lawsuit because the Make It Right Foundation built substandard homes, that are deteriorating at a rapid pace while the homeowners are stuck with mortgages on properties that have diminished values,” attorney Ron Austin told NBC News. “We have filed to make Make It Right make it right.” The litigation marks the latest in a series of troubling headlines for the celebrity-helmed nonprofit. In 2015, NOLA reported that Make It Right was forced to renovate 39 decaying decks at an average cost of $12,000 each, due to its use of TimberSIL, a purportedly long-lasting wood product that rotted in the subtropical climate. Earlier this year, the KieranTimberlake-designed house at 5012 North Derbigny Street became the first Make It Right home to be demolished, just seven years after being completed, following a prolonged period of vacancy, code violations, and half-finished roof repairs.
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The rumor mill is buzzing around the purportedly budding relationship between Boston-based architect and artist Neri Oxman and actor Brad Pitt. According to Page Six, Oxman met Pitt when he was referred to her for guidance on an architectural project. Since then, the two have developed what the publication called a "professional friendship." Celebrity gossip mag US Weekly took it a step further, claiming the two have been secretly rendezvousing for months, with Brad even tagging along on Oxman’s professional trips across the globe. The Israeli-American Oxman, a professor at MIT and founder of design group Mediated Matter, is known for her forward-thinking approach to architecture and design that fuses natural, biological forms with the growing capabilities of digital fabrication. Oxman has produced acclaimed pieces such as “The Silk Pavilion,” a CNC-fabricated scaffold coiled with silk thread produced by 6,500 silkworms, and “Gemeni” a solid wood chaise crafted to resemble a cocoon, adorned with cells of varying colors and rigidity. Her ventures into 3-D printed wearables also include a design for Björk's Vulnicura tour, a movable mask that mimicked the musician's own bone and tissue based on scans. Oxman’s work is exhibited widely, including at MoMa, San Francisco's Museum of Modern Art, and the Centre Pompidou. This is not Pitt’s first flirtation with the world of architecture. The Hollywood star met and befriended Frank Gehry in 2001, leading to an internship focused on computer-aided design at the international architect’s Los Angeles office. Since then, Pitt has gone on to found Make it Right, a non-profit focused on delivering environmentally-friendly housing to post-Katrina Louisiana. During this venture, Gehry designed a duplex in New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward, his only residential project in the state of Louisiana. While Pitt has dabbled in architecture and design, he has nothing on Oxman’s impressive record of academic and design accolades, including the 2016 MIT Collier Medal, the Textiles Spaces 2015 Award, and the 2014 Vilcek Prize. Whatever the truth about their relationship is, Oxman is probably too good for Pitt.
The New & Old in New Orleans: Ten years after Katrina, architects still figuring out how to rebuild housing in the city
Ten years after Hurricane Katrina tore through the Gulf Coast region, inundating New Orleans with contaminated floodwaters, the city is in some ways still getting back on its feet. After much dispute on how to recover the city, architects and developers are looking to new construction and existing building stock for solutions. Many homes in the Crescent City were washed away or irreparably damaged. One of the most predominant home styles damaged in the storm was the so-called shotgun house, named as such due to its elongated style organized around a long corridor stretching the length of the house. That typology is has been deployed by numerous groups in the past decade to rebuild New Orleans. Developers and architects have been snagging headlines rebuilding what was lost. Most notably, Brad Pitt's Make It Right Foundation, has built over 100 homes in the city, many by top name architects and more still with modern designs that reinterpret the city's historic shotgun house. Make It Right has lately been building "tiny houses," a style of housing meant for people on a small budget subscribing to a fast-paced, out-of-home lifestyle that's fitting for the urban environment. This fast growing contemporary style has its benefits:
- Storage space is limited, so there is a lower propensity to over consume and due to the size of the plot.
- The building is relatively simple and easy to maintain (a chore no city dweller wants to labor over).
Brad Pitt's home-building operation, Make It Right, was initially established in 2007 to rebuild homes in New Orleans' Lower Ninth Ward after Hurricane Katrina. The non-profit has built dozens of starchitect-designed houses in New Orleans and a subsequent expansion to Kansas City, near where the actor grew up. Now the organization has taken up its latest charitable challenge: the construction of several sustainable housing developments in Fort Peck, Montana for a Native American tribe there. Fort Peck, Montana is home to the Fort Peck Indian Reservation, which in turn is the homeland of the Assiniboine and Sioux Native American tribes. The grounds are the ninth-largest Indian reservation in the country, but records indicate there are over 300 people without homes. To solve this problem, Make It Right is teaming up with the Sioux and Assiniboine tribes and the architects and designers from Architecture for Humanity and Sustainable Native Communities Collaborative to build 20 houses at the site. The project's chief architects first surveyed the lands and deliberated what kind of structures would be ideal before going to the tribes themselves to ask what sort of houses they preferred. The houses are designed with the customs and traditions of both tribes in mind, such as the directions the doorways face or the significance of certain colors. Construction is slated to begin by the end of the year. All of the homes are expected to be LEED platinum certified when complete incorporating numerous sustainable building practices. You can donate to the project here.
The houses built by Brad Pitt's charitable organization, Make it Right, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina are already in need of refurbishing. The foundation is part of an effort to restore New Orleans' 9th Ward through the construction of 150 architect-designed homes featuring modern design, but the timber used on the exteriors of many of the homes is proving no match for the area's moisture and is beginning to rot. The charity has said it will work with their provider TimberSIL to solve the problems with the rapidly decaying wood. Pitt founded Make it Right to offer green sustainable architectural contributions to New Orlean's recovery efforts. The actor called upon prominent figures within the Los Angeles architectural scene—Frank Gehry, Hitoshi Abe, Thom Mayne, and Lawrence Scarpa among others—to create affordable houses to be installed in the neighborhood of the city hardest-hit by the storm. Shigeru Ban and David Adjaye have also contributed designs to the foundation. In 2009 he met with President Obama and Nancy Pelosi to discuss his efforts in New Orleans and sustainable housing policy. The charity is another step in the actor's ongoing and well-publicized flirtation with architecture. It is also not the first time one of his ambitious undertakings in the field has hit a bit of a stumbling block. Developed with affordability in mind, it seems unlikely that any of the Make it Right homes will feature pieces from the actor's 2012 furniture collection "priced at the highest end of the custom-furnishing scale."
Make It Right, Brad Pitt's development of contemporary, LEED Platinum homes in New Orleans' Lower Ninth Ward—an area devastated by Hurricane Katrina and still far from recovered—has a new addition: Frank Gehry. Gehry's new duplex on the site was completed this week. The surprisingly simple design (especially considering some of the expressive homes in the development) features a waterproof solar canopy, a roof terrace and six covered porches. Still one could argue that Gehry's stilt-raised design, with its fiber cement siding (that looks like local clapboard siding), metal roofs and focus on outdoor space, is one of the most contextual of the bunch.
While at the AIA convention we ducked out for a few hours to explore New Orleans' Lower Ninth Ward, the area most devastated by Hurricane Katrina. While much of New Orleans has recovered pretty impressively, the Lower Ninth is still in horrible condition. Countless houses have been abandoned—boarded up and rotting—and many still have rescue workers' markings on them from the flood six years ago. Then right around the corner is Brad Pitt's Make It Right houses, 75 of which have been completed. In case you haven't read any design magazines lately, they're contemporary, and sustainable, takes on local architecture from the likes of some of architecture's biggest stars. Say what you will about the architecture of Make It Right (in my opinion some is inspired and some is a little over the top) it's gradually becoming a nice little neighborhood, with people sitting on their porches, enjoying their brand new homes. Unfortunately the rest of the Ninth needs serious help. Make it Right's Executive Director Tom Darden told AN that the organization would like to expand the program, but are waiting for more funding. But even 100 more houses wouldn't be close to enough. This neighborhood needs help fast. More pictures in the Lower Ninth below.