Pitt’s 9th Ward Designers Graduate to Mumbling

December 12, 2007

So Brad Pitt is on the morning news and all the green blogs again last week with a second round of architectural renderings he’s gathered for the heavily damaged flood zone in New Orleans also called the 9th Ward. (Full disclosure: I wrote about Pitt’s New Orleans’ efforts earlier this year; find that criticism here and here.)

This time Pitt is flogging 13 designs from architects around the world to raise money to replace homes. I wish more of the designs showed the benefit of experience in tropical construction and the quickly changing home insurance industry.

I have no issue at all with Pitt’s charitable intentions. Housing certainly seems to be needed, as referenced by another headline this morning, citing the insecurity related to ‘no home’ for the huge recent decline in New Orleans’ mental health. However, I would like someone to remember that after the houses are built – (hopefully) they will be insured, that will have a cost. The design of the houses can impact the insurance premiums, the durability of the houses, and how well they are maintained.

Building housing that will last – against weather, neglect, economic crisis, and changes in architectural fashion – this is true green building. Focusing only on how ‘green’ they are to initially build leaves a lot of sustainability on the table – and leads me to question whether this project should be called ‘green’ at all.

Thom Mayne of Morphosis states that “these are simple designs for low-income people”. I would like to see evidence of more clearly stated understanding and respect for the ‘salt of the earth’ from the architectural community. Samuel Mockbee, we miss you. These designs say, “mumbledyMODERNhmnmn” rather than “Here is safety and comfort for a long time, flourish and be happy, creative humans.”

How much savvier are you in sustainable Coastal Construction than Pitt and his Thirteen Aspiring Angels?

  1. All but one of the designs (hint: it’s Concordia) will cost the homeowners ~$1000 more/year in insurance premiums than it has to. Why?
  2. All of the designs with wide cantilevered roofs in excess of 2′ will require what highly energy consumptive and expensive material in order to comply with hurricane wind codes? (Hint: at least this one is recyclable, unlike the large amounts of concrete required by other designs.)
  3. All but one of the designs (hint: it’s Eskew) think they’re too good for what basic and nearly free cooling device?
  4. Which design seems to produce an indoor swimming pool during an everyday thunderstorm?

I return to the basic tenents of sustainable building – which also happen to be humanitarian building, because in the end ALL resources are finite:

  • Build the right building. International Design, sometimes called Modern, nearly always gives us the wrong building. LISTEN – to the people, to the context of the site, to the weather, to the suppliers available.
  • Then, build it well and beautifully, and it will be taken care of. Again, the past 50 years have produced doubts on this point for Modern buildings. Unfortunately.
  • Finally, take advantage of what we know now about efficient material and energy use.

Answers: Take a look at which of the Make It Right project architects are local to New Orleans. I will post again soon with my answers to the quiz along with my favorite design and why it has my (er, qualified) professional support.