Don’t make it blight, Brad!

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5012 N. Derbigny St., in New Orleans’s Ninth Ward. (theadvocate.com)

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Brad and wife in better days. (The Blast)

Actor Brad Pitt’s Make It Right foundation erected several score of goofy homes in the Ninth Ward of New Orleans – poor, depopulated and hardest hit by Katrina in 2005. Pitt brought in squads of modern architects to teach the hoi polloi what kinda machines for living their betters covet, even if they don’t actually all live in one. Brad and wifelet Angolina Jolie had a $6 million townhouse in the ritzy French Quarter before they split up.

But many of the Make It Right houses have turned out to be moldy, not to mention fugly, and, while green and edgy, are not exactly affordable.

One of the houses may be demolished only seven years after it was built if a permit is issued by the city on April 30. The Lens, an online Gulf Coast news site, wrote about 5012 N. Derbigny St. in “Blighted Make It Right home to be demolished after standing vacant, half-repaired for two years.

Philadelphia architects KieranTimberlake gave it a flat roof, natch, but before another architect could replace it with a sloped roof, its owner had moved out. (A sloped roof can be cool as long as its slopes don’t meet in the middle, like a gable.) So the roof was leaking – surprise, surprise! – and mold was setting in, stinking the place up and driving the sickened family out.

At a hearing on the house last week, the city tried to put a cork in the controversy:

Hearing officer Lee Phillips made it clear that the hearing was about code violations, not issues between the property owner, the neighbors and the developer. He said the hearing wasn’t ‘the Jerry Springer show’ and his role was to decide whether to impose a fine, not to decide who was at fault for the leaks.

The cutting-edge design of these homes has sparked a local activist movement to confront Pitt and Make It Right. This may not be the first Make It Right house to head south, and it won’t be the last. Problems are cropping up at other Make It Right homes, according to a WDSU-TV story, “Brad Pitt Make It Right homes riddled with problems, say some residents.”

And while Pitt is to be commended for trying harder to do good than most celebrities, he can be blamed for pigheadedness. Instead of building Ninth Ward residents a new neighborhood they never asked for, why did Pitt not try to rebuild the one they lost? It would have been a lot more helpful.

But how much fun would that be? Brad might have some idea, but nobody asked the Ninth Ward.

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Typical Make It Right houses in New Orleans’s Ninth Ward. (joevare)

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Ninth Ward shotgun houses in New Orleans. (Pinterest)

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Ninth Ward shotgun houses. (primerealestatenola.com)

About David Brussat

For a living, I edit the writing of some of the nation's leading architects, urbanists and design theorists. This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. My freelance writing and editing on that topic and others addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts, and a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to invest your prose with even more style and clarity, please email me at my consultancy, dbrussat@gmail.com, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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5 Responses to Don’t make it blight, Brad!

  1. Thanks for the kind words, Subscriber. And great story about the high school in Florida. I like to say that U.S. public schools designed in the last century look like cardboard box factories. Naturally, Wolfe has an even better moniker for the phenomenon which, alas, I cannot recall right now.

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  2. Why does this make me think of the new Xanadu building in RI – the new Attorney General’s office – at the edge of Howard Ave at the Pastore Complex in Cranston. Featured on its own on a hill, it would still look like a modern max security building where FBI swat teams might be expected to exit. But – the real conundrum is that it is placed just down the street from the asbestos laden, brick building called Harrington Hall – festooned with metal bunk beds for over 100 of RI’s homeless men. Built with money from the Google settlement – we chose building Xanadu over humanity.

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    • Nancy, I think you are channeling one of modern architecture’s worst characteristics. It makes you think bad thoughts, often by connecting your mind with other really bad works of architecture. Way to turn our minds into mush, guys! Thanks so much!

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  3. Anonymous says:

    Now that he is with MIT Professor Neri Oxman, I wonder if he will be able to Make It Righer.

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  4. A Subscriber says:

    Reminds me of the ‘new’ North Kingstown High School that was opened in 1960. The word went around that it had been based upon a design for a Florida school because the plans already existed and were cheaper to buy than hiring new architects. Problem was, it consisted of satellite buildings connected by covered, but not walled, walkways. Rain doesn’t fall straight down; it usually comes at an angle. Consequently, the wind blew and the rain soaked and the snow froze everybody who passed from building to building between classes.. But it looked all kinda modern and slick and cutting edge, so what was there to complain about? Darn those silly teenagers. A little discomfort is good for a fella.

    Even so, it was a sad moment when the whole shebang got demolished in order to put up what is now one of the most unattractive high school buildings in New England, if not the US. But maybe that’s just my opinion.

    Love you, Dave. I always enjoy reading you but I don’t write much. Thank you for teaching me tons of good stuff.

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