In New Orleans' Lower 9th Ward, Brad Pitt's Make it Right Foundation has been hard at work constructing innovative sustainable housing since 2007, and their latest green home is designed by none other than legendary architect Frank Gehry. The vibrant pink and purple home is a contemporary twist on a long-standing New Orleans architectural tradition; the double-shotgun. Gehry's two-story update provides separate entrances at opposite sides of the building, with 1,000 square foot of usable balcony space for each unit, including rooftop decks topped off with solar panel shading. We stopped by for the unveiling of this groundbreaking home—which is expected to attain LEED Platinum certification—and checked out its extraordinary array of energy-saving and sustainable features.
In 2007, Brad Pitt founded the Make it Right Foundation with an ambitious plan to construct 150 new, green homes for returning residents in New Orleans’ Lower 9th Ward, a largely working-class neighborhood which had been devastated two years earlier by Hurricane Katrina. The Frank Gehry-designed home is the 86th project that Make it Right has completed in the area.
With 1,780 square feet of indoor space, the home’s original design includes two two-bedroom, two-bathroom units arranged so that neither of the two units have rooms placed above living spaces for the opposing unit. Linda Santi—the Lower 9th Ward resident who will soon call the unique house ‘home’—needed a little more space, so the floor plan was rearranged so as to provide her with a 3 bedroom unit, and a modest secondary residence which she will rent out to a neighbor.
The house is constructed with SIP panels and durable fiber cement board siding – Santi herself picked out the colors for the vibrant home. A soft rose denotes her side of the residence, and a bolder violet covers the rental side. All walls – exterior and interior – were painted with zero VOC paints.
The entrance to each of the homes opens into an eat-in kitchen and living space equipped with Energy Star appliances and fitted with cabinets made from sustainably harvested wood and countertops composed of 75% recycled materials. The hardwood floors (which help to provide a traditional, historic feel throughout one of the units) also utilize post-industrial waste – they contain “50 percent less newly harvested wood than conventional alternatives.”
The home’s utilities are equally sustainable; a four kilowatt array of Lumos LSX frameless solar modules provides shade for the rooftop decks as it powers the home, while tankless water heaters help to reduce energy consumption. High-velocity, small-duct central air conditioning forces evenly placed jets of cool or warm air into rooms. The system requires fewer resources and less space than traditional systems.
One notable absence is the home’s lack of hurricane shutters. Instead small pegs protrude from the window frames, onto which custom-fitted Kevlar sheets (think bullet-proof vests) are attached in preparation for a storm. Used on all of Make it Right’s homes, the sheets help to defend against wind and airborne debris in the event of a hurricane, but require less resources and maintenance than traditional shutters, and generate less waste and damage to the home than the plywood boards often drilled onto window frames when a storm approaches.
The house is elevated two to three feet above the minimum requirements for its location, and Make it Right is additionally engaged in efforts to reduce the street-level flooding which New Orleanians are all too familiar with. The City, working in consultation with the Foundation has just laid its first permeable street in the Lower 9th Ward (also referred to as rice krispie roads). Several other streets are currently being resurfaced in the hopes that the new material will enable rain from heavy summer storms to drain through the streets.
The home is a unique and bold addition to a project which has dramatically changed the face of a neighborhood left devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. As a canal levee breached less than three blocks from what is now the site of the Frank Gehry home, the neighborhood was inundated by a twenty-five-foot storm surge, which left the area standing in up to eighteen feet of flood water. Over 1,800 people died as a result of the storm, with thousands more left with homes badly damaged or destroyed. As levees and infrastructure have been rebuilt, Make it Right’s project has been a vital component in the rebuilding efforts in the area. Where just a few years ago empty lots remained, Make it Right’s sustainable housing has helped to enable many families return to the neighborhood.
The prototype home cost in the region of $300,000 to construct, but Make it Right hopes that any future versions of the Frank Gehry-designed two-family home can meet the Foundation’s budgetary aim of $200,000 for a duplex. Other non-prototype single-family home designs which have been constructed in the neighborhood by Make it Right have been built for around $150,000. At present there are no plans to build future versions of the home — that remains in the hands of returning Lower 9th Ward residents participating in the program. Homeowners have a number of plans to choose from, based on their own individual needs and budgets.
All Images © Chad Chenier Photography / Make It Right