LEED Platinum certification is too often reserved for the wealthy, but Brad Pitt’s Make It Right Foundation reminds us that sustainability needn’t be prohibitively expensive. Look no further than the recently completed duplex in New Orleans’s Lower 9th Ward. It’s the first Make It Right home by Gehry, one of 21 local and international architects recruited by Pitt as part of his effort to build 150 houses in the neighborhood, which was among those hardest hit in Hurricane Katrina.
The 1,780-square-foot duplex includes a three-bedroom, two-bathroom front house and a one-bedroom, one-bath rear house, as well as a host of impressive features: a rooftop patio covered with a waterproof solar canopy, post-industrial recycled hardwood floors, zero-VOC paint, and efficient tankless water heaters. According to the foundation, the $200,000 price tag for the duplex is comparable to market rates for the area. The same goes for the foundation’s many single family homes, which they price at $150,000, also market rate, all of which come with LEED Platinum certification.
"Our initial goal was to build a LEED Platinum single-family home at $150,000," says Make It Right communications director Taylor Royle. "That’s the market rate in New Orleans, so if you can build a sustainable home for the market rate, there’s no reason not to build it that way." So far, the foundation has completed 86 homes en route to its goal of 150, all of which have been (and will be) purchased by pre-Katrina Lower 9th Ward residents or their family members.
"This is a historic neighborhood that experienced its initial population boom from African-American servicemen returning from World War II," says Royle. "And many of the homes here were passed down from generation to generation. After Katrina, families were determined to return to this neighborhood." Hence the requirement that these homes serve former residents and their families—and the imperative that the design speak to the spirit of the city.
"I wanted to make a house that I would like to live in and one that responded to the history, vernacular and climate of New Orleans," says Gehry in a Foundation press release. "I love the colors that the homeowner chose. I could not have done it better."
Perhaps the most striking aspect of this home is the abundance of porches—there are six—a nod to the thriving porch culture of the city.
"We don’t design on spec; we do a lot of listening before we start drawing," says Royle, who sees the endeavor as a sort of laboratory for sustainable development. The foundation just finished a multi-family housing development for disabled veterans in Newark, and is undertaking a massive project in a blighted area of Kansas City—turning an abandoned, century-old school into a refurbished, sustainable housing development and community center.
Whether responding to a natural disaster or an economic one, the Foundation believes that good design has the power to bring dignity to an area—and that’s something we should all be able to afford.