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Published 23/02/2010 email E-MAIL print PRINT

Architecture in Times of Need

Make it Right. Rebuilding New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward

Editor: Kristin Feireiss
With contributions from BRAD PITT
PRESTEL Verlag, Munich, Berlin, London, New York, (2009)

Reviewed by MICHAEL SPENS

This volume represents a unique documentation of an aid venture led by actor/philanthropist Brad Pitt, a long time lover of the ‘Big Easy’ as New Orleans is known. The book, edited by Kristin Feireiss, describes the rapid development since Hurricane Katrina struck in August 2005, of Brad Pitt’s personal initiative to “Make it Right”. One of the most significant elements in his collective operation has been the way that the initiative has reached out to engage with a significant number of proven architects, always with the collaboration of the Lower Ninth Ward community. Kristin Feireiss has also been engaged in a fully hands-on way, bringing her wide knowledge of working architects worldwide to bear upon the issue.

A much bigger issue is raised by such developments, which is the promotion of a major new social role for architectural firms. Encouraged by Brad Pitt himself, Make it Right (MiR), with the Lower Ninth as the epicentre for recovery, seeks new prototypes for individual low-cost housing in a devastated area that will otherwise remain, to a lesser extent, under threat. The first 13 examples have already been designed, by such as David Adjaye (UK) and Shigeru Ban (Japan), within the context of sustainability and economy of means. Local and other US architects have also been involved. The results of this first wave are impressive and construction has already begun on the first houses. In the second wave of architects, Frank Gehry is prominent in offering his own services.

As Juhani Pallasmaa, architect/philosopher, in November 2009, at a Symposium at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, entitled “Sustaining Identity” has claimed – architects draw true architectural values from existential meanings, not aesthetics and these meanings cannot be invented or created, as they are bound to reflect human existence itself. This represents an ‘architecture of resistance’, to a globalisation of a depressingly material genre, including signature architects. Make it Right is a prime example of this resistance. As Feireiss says in her Introduction to the book, Make it Right is different from any other humanitarian activity. It is not only about collecting money, it is “the use of architecture’s most repetitive module, the family residence. Low-income, affordable and sustainable houses – the housing of the masses and the architecture of daily life.”

Brad Pitt has developed with Make it Right a model of relief through architecture for depressed communities worldwide. And he has the ready support of architects. Such is the quality of the first 13 designs that Studio International will feature on-line a fully developed critique and description of the many and varied solutions, later this spring. Long life to the Lower Ninth Ward and its returning and new inhabitants. Maybe Fats Domino, whose piano was found up-ended in his own collapsed residence there, will also live to return.

The book, 488 pages long and plentifully illustrated in colour, gives a clear and informative narrative to this formidable venture. This is no “coffee table” book, but a call to action.



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