Brad Pitt's 'Make It Right' houses in New Orleans' Lower Ninth Ward to include two-family models

Brad Pitt's 'Make It Right' houses in New Orleans' Lower Ninth Ward to include two-family models
July 25, 2009
by Doug MacCas

Wow, wait until you see the just-finished Trahan Architects house at 1708 Tennessee St. in the Make It Right development. It will make you excited about superstar Brad Pitt's rebuilding effort in the Lower 9th Ward all over again, just as its second phase is beginning.

The roof of the Trahan house glides off one edge of the home like a gull wing, and tapers all the way to the ground in a gentle swoop. As it descends, the roof wing dissolves into a series of shade-producing slats, like an enormous louvered window shutter. So cool.

Cool is part of the architectural goal at Make It Right. Pitt's heart was in the right place when, in December 2007, he came up with the plan to rebuild part of the flood-ruined neighborhood.

And his eye was on the future.

He invited architects far and wide to contribute designs for affordable, ecologically sound, storm-safe and aesthetically advanced family homes, and he convinced tens of thousands of altruistic donors to help pay for the project. If all goes as planned, displaced families will eventually occupy 150 Pitt-built homes.

The Trahan house is one of 14 that have been finished so far, with a score more in the works. It's worth a drive to see the sunny Concordia houses, the austere new Shigeru Ban design, the cubistic GRAFT houses (the most popular design among returning residents) and all the rest. That ominous gray object under the huge blue tarp is the buoyant chassis of Morphosis' floating shotgun design, meant to rise safely above floodwater on mooring poles like a Venetian gondola -- certainly the most audacious flood-survival concept.

And now, Make It Right is adding new designs for two-family houses to the neighborhood mix.

"We always knew we wanted some multifamily designs," said director Tom Darden in a phone conversation last week.

Returning families can now choose to buy either a single or a double design -- at a price much below market value, Darden said. Families choosing to buy a double will be able to rent half to supplement their incomes. In the future, Make It Right plans to "condo-ize" some doubles, Darden added, allowing for split ownership.

The process for buying a Make It Right home varies from case to case, but in general, here's how it works.

Families who lived in the Lower 9th Ward before Hurricane Katrina can apply for a Make It Right home. If they already own a property in the neighborhood, great. If not, Make It Right has bought 40 lots from the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority for future homes.

Returning residents pay Make It Right what they're able -- usually about $75,000 -- and Make It Right loans them the rest (the cost of a single is in the $150,000 range; a double about $200,000). The payback policy varies. For some, the loan is free, if the recipient agrees to live in the house for five to 20 years.

"Our goal is to help the families that don't have a lot of options," Darden said. "We ask families to contribute as much as they can afford.

"That's what is so fantastic about our project. We're bringing some of the most brilliant architects from across the world to work with some of the most deserving families."

Darden said that the cost of the prototype houses exceeds the hoped-for affordable prices, but that as the homes are reproduced, Make It Right will achieve an economy of scale that drives costs down. Current building costs, he said, are about $150 per square foot, compared with $130 for average homes.

Darden said that 200 families have applied for houses, and 50 are in the preliminary homeowner "counseling process." The Trahan home should be occupied in August.

Families could sell their Make It Right houses (some of which are architectural gems), Darden said, although the project's goal is to re-establish the lost neighborhood with original residents.

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