Invited to attend a star-studded fund-raiser and tour the Make It Right rebuild of the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans in March, I was curious to see the rebuilding progress in an area where 4,000 homes were destroyed when Hurricane Katrina kicked a hole in the levy in August 2005. One part of this hisstoric area had actor Brad Pitt as its caretaker. He founded the Make It Right Foundation, having as its goal the building of 150 affordable, green, storm-resistant houses by 2014.
While much of the Lower Ninth is still eerily pocked by boarded up homes and empty lots, Pitt’s cluster of houses paralleling the levy stand in blessed contrast. Designed by 21 architects, including Frank Gehry, Shigeru Ban, Morphosis, and Kiernan Timberlake as well as local architects, the houses are hardly typical of a disaster rebuild. Their bright colors, whimsical porches, solar panels, and xeriscaped landscaping manage to channel the soul and electricity of New Orleans with panache and innovation.
The U.S. Green Building Council says Make It Right is building the largest, greenest neighborhood of single family homes in America - earning their highest distinction for energy efficiency and sustainability: LEED Platinum.
What does this project mean to the green building industry? Not only does each built in this neighborhood mean that some family was able to return from exile, but also that the owners of the new house can afford the utility bills, can enjoy high-quality indoor air quality, can play in safe creative playgrounds, can be proud—really proud—of what their house looks like. It is an example not only of housing that should be put in place after a disaster, but of housing that should be available to everyone.
The March event was a mammoth push to raise money to complete the project. It was one of the largest fundraisers ever held in New Orleans.
Seeing a collection of talented people who have other causes they could throw their star status behind so enthusiastic about Make it Right was heartwarming. It was entertaining to listen to Ellen DeGeneres badger the crowd for auction bids, and watch Drew Brees auction off a Super Bowl box seats (plus the opportunity to call a play in the big game), and enjoy the musical talents of Sheryl Crowe, Dr. John, and Rhianna and many others.
But it’s a bigger story than one celebrity fundraiser or even one well-executed rebuild. At Green Builder, we've been covering innovative green projects for the better part of a decade. It's heartening to see celebrities joining forces with the building industry, to help "Make it Right."
Here are some of the exterior features of the Make It Right homes.
• PV systems that generates 2.7 kW to 3.0 kW of energy
• Roof hatches
• The houses are elevated 5 or 8 feet to ensure the homes will be out of the sustained flood levels.
• Storm fabric eliminates the lengthy and cumbersome process of boarding up windows with plywood.
• Advanced framing techniques and specially engineered wall sections allowing them to withstand winds of at least 130 mph.
• Fiber cement board siding
• Structural framing components treated to resist moisture, mold and fungus, wood rot, wood-ingesting insects, including Formosan termites
• Metal roof
• Native plants, rain gardens, and green roofs
• Rainwater harvesting
• Pervious concrete sidewalks and driveways
Make It Right specified interior finishes for energy savings and low maintenance, including:
• Tankless water heaters
• Energy Star-qualified appliances and light fixtures
• Spray foam insulation
• Low-E windows and doors
• Low-flow plumbing fixtures
• Dual-flush toilets
• Mold-resistant drywall
• No-VOC paint
• FSC-Certified cabinets with no added formaldehyde
• Carpet with recycled content and “safer” materials and dyes than typical carpets
• Fire sprinklers
To view this article as it appears in our June 2012 issue, with additional photos and sidebars, please visit our Magazine Archive.