Brad Pitt’s Make It Right Homes Now Under Construction

[photo courtesy Wayne Troyer]

A pleasant surprise was waiting in the Life Without Buildings inbox this morning: construction photos of the Make it Right homes in New Orleans’ Lower 9th Ward. Make it Right is a program established by actor/architectural hobbyist Brad Pitt that has been designed to be a catalyst for redevelopment in the Lower 9 — a neighborhood many people thought would (and should) never be rebuilt after Hurricane Katrina. Make it Right set a goal of building 150 new homes, all of which consider Cradle-to-Cradle sensibilities and employ methods of construction that make the buildings easy to replicate. Each house is built for $150,000 and paid for with donations — many via the project’s website. MIR works with local community organizations to find residents for the slowly emerging neighborhood, and once they’re approved, the new residents select the home they wish to build from a 13 different designs by local, national, and international architecture firm. So to some extent, the neighborhood is shaped by the people who live there. While it’s probably safe to assume that the almost insulting design by MVRDV will never get built, some of the more conventional choices are already well under construction.


Art From Disaster

Almost 3 years after Hurricane Katrina, many New Orleans homes still bear the spray-paint markings used by rescue workers who were searching for survivors. On the facade of their house in the Bywater neighborhood, some residents have installed a metal sculpture permanently memorializing these new urban hieroglyphics.


Katrina Memories

Yesterday was the two year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. I was going through some old notes and photos I had at the time and thought I might reproduce a couple excerpts. Most of these scratchings were written in the back of a Honda Accord, so it’s not exactly Hemmingway:

300 miles in 12 hours (and we’re the lucky ones). I-10 and most other interstates have been closed for hours. contraflow is working, but the evacuation is just too enormous. We’re taking the state routes and for the most part, it’s a smooth ride. Unfortunately, every small, state-route town has a police force whom want nothing more than to play a role in al this; to be important, if for only 24 hours. Their attempts to direct traffice have proved disastrous, successful only in creating traffic james that could have been prevented by a single, blinking yellow light. We stay motivated, stay together. frustrations only strengthening our friendships; a traffic crucible.

We left town on Saturday night for the Northshore. Evacuations are pretty common and like many others, I was planning on staying. “Been there, drank through it.” This time, things looked different. the city felt off. The pit in my stomach, the proverbial “bad feeling,” told me to leave, so I called up some friends, threw a tarp over my books, grabbed a t-shirt and a my laptop and hopped in a car. 11pm. We arrive in Houston. Aunt Sandy takes us in, with tears in her eyes and maternal hugs for people she’s never met. Still no reception on our cell phones but text-messaging sometimes works. We’re slowly able to get in touch with some of our friends and family. Some people are still unheard from but we think the worst is over.Monday morning. the roof of the Superdome is peeling off. thousands of refugees scramble for shelter in the rain-soaked stadium. Levees are beginning to leak and the water is slowly rising throughout the city. It might be a couple more days before we can go back. Houston’s opened its arms. People are sleeping in mattress stores. Text messaging is the only reliable form of communication. It’s frustrating, but at least it’s something. Unsure of when we can return, we’ve decide to head west in a day or two and just play it by ear.We stop in Target, buy clothes and change into them in the dressing room. Also bought a cheap camera.

Day 4. drove all night across Texas. Never again.Rumors abound. Fires? looting? militias? martial law? Friends stuck in the city? Friends getting airlifted out? It’s impossible to know what’s ACTUALLY happening. Over the next few days, we seemed to take turns breaking down, everyone in their own way. This is a frustration I’ve never known. Never imagined.

Day 6, somewhere in Arizona. I hate the desert.

3 wks later, South Bend. Back in the midwest. Friends try and lighten my mood with jokes; “Jimmy! Jimmy, call FEMA and have them help us with this bar tab! Why are we waiting for a cab? Call FEMA and have them airlift us home!”Chicago. Hanging out with some old friends at the L&L Lounge in Wrigleyville. I see some familiar-looking kids and overhear their conversations. “Molly’s is still open…” and “…still in the Faubourg.” Molly’s would be Molly’s at the Market and now I realize I’ve met these people at that Decatur St. bar. It was strangely comforting to see these dive-bar-friends in another bar across the country, people who know the New Orleans of dirty bars that never close, backyard rock & roll parties, the worlds of Quintron and MC tracheotomy (reportedly last seen dressed as a pirate riding his motorcycle into oblivion, laughing and shooting a handgun into the air). They don’t know when or if they’re going back. Neither do I. The New Orleans diaspora is in full effect.

It was a very strange, very uncertain time, but in the end, we were extremely fortunate. I was very lucky to evacuate with 2 of the most amazing people I’ve ever met (hey jake! hey miriam!) and I’m incredibly grateful to all the caring, compassionate people who took us in, fed us, and sometimes even clothed us. I’d also like to thank all the readers of this site who checked in with me, sent their warm wishes, and even offered me a job or two.I’m off to Milwaukee for a wedding, but there’ll be a couple more New Orleans posts next week. In the meantime, check out NPRs continuing coverage of post-Katrina life.


N.O. Return

Hey you. Yeah, it has been a while…
What? Oh…thanks. You look good too.
So um…sorry I haven’t called… things have been kind of crazy lately…

A lot’s happened in the past few weeks, making it difficult to know where to begin. There’s the trip the San Francisco for the opening weekend at the new de Young Museum, the brief time spent in Cincinnati, Chicago, South Bend, and then there’s the return trip to New Orleans.

Business first, I suppose…

So I returned to New Orleans last week to collect my belongings and tie up some loose ends. That’s right, I’m leaving. Moving to San Francisco in two days. It really was a tough decision, but it’s one that’s been in the back of my mind for some time, and I felt like I had to see where this adventure would take me. It’s time for a new beginning. I’ll never forget last week’s return. The current state of the city is one that fosters strange and surreal experiences. My first night there I was riding bikes with my friend Jac – swerving around military humvees, driving past brick rubble and abandoned buildings – and as we made our way through town, it was impossible to ignore the silence of it all. Simon and Garfunkel never seemed more profound. Even with people milling about, there’s an underlying stillness that wasn’t there before. Walking and riding through the city, we quickly became aware of a change in the spatial experience of the city, even in the relatively undamaged uptown area. Previously abstract portions of the city fabric have gained a new power in their absence – phantom pains in a dismembered city. A fallen tree and its resulting absent canopy, an empty lot, missing street lights… Although at times it was difficult to specify what had changed, things were different. That first day, the overall effect was incredibly disorienting – almost to the point of making me dizzy. It felt like I was living in some sort of vast James Turrel work.

The military presence was another constant cause for astonishment. Most notable were THEIR MACHINE GUNS. Is that really necessary at this point? I can understand that with a reduced police force, the military may be necessary for some time, but seeing these soldiers – kids sometimes!- walking around, eating Halloween candy with real Machine guns slung over their back! Being questioned by a uniformed, armed, soldier about being out past curfew (curfew!) is an unsettling experience to say the least. An ugly business, the whole thing. Juxtapositions abound between these iconic authoritarian figures and the more bizarre denizens of the Big Easy. During Halloween weekend, the military and police responded en masse when the electricity went out in the Bywater. I remember sitting in this dark, powerless bar, looking out an open window at a street lit by the sirens of police cars. (Very much like an Arcade Fire lyric, come to think of it) A dominatrix was talking to two soldiers. A couple wearing wetsuits with water wings were casually leaning against a humvee talking to another soldier, while a drum circle started playing and everyone began to sing “Tainted Love.”

I’m not trying to make light of the situation by recounting these events. I saw things down there that were profoundly disturbing and things that broke my heart, but I think we got our fill of that from the news. Things have changed Life is back in New Orleans. People are once again living, working, and partying in the city. Strangers are sitting together at coffee shops and restaurants – people who once lived on opposite sides of the city now find themselves in the same house or apt building. Social and economic demographics are changing. The city is changing and will continue to change. Hopefully for the better…

For any friends and acquaintances who may be curious about my personal status, I knew weeks ago that my car was gone, but the status of my apartment was a mystery. Although my second story one bedroom is in an area that didn’t flood, the wind-torn roof resulted in some water damage that unfortunately seemed to be localized over my architecture and art history books. I also lost some journals and sketchbooks that, when handled, broke apart like ancient texts from the Library of Alexandria. In the grand scheme of things none of these things are really important. I know that I am one of the very very lucky people and I’m extremely grateful for that.

Later this week I’ll try and post more about my time and N.O. and my last trip to San Francisco, so stay tuned. In a week or so I hope to be have a somewhat stable living situation, and be regularly posting once again on the topic of all things architectural.


Tales from Taliesin

Finally. I have internet. The past few days have been pretty strange. Normally, I get most of my news from the internet – reading papers online, blogs, journals, etc. – but recently my only information source was the television and its many 24 hour news stations. Until now, I had no idea there was so much of a difference between the two forms of media. For days, It was nearly impossilbe to find any solid informatiion regarding my return to new orleans, or any solid information about anything. Sure, if I needed to see shocking pictures of drastic flooding and helicopter rescues, i’d go to the television…but i’m over that. Your heart can only be broken so many times. Most of this is probably old news to anyone reading this, but it was quite the realization for me. It’s never been quite so clear just how far removed the televised media is.

Anyway. that’s not why you read this blog. That is, if there’s anyone left who still reads this blog. On my recent cross-country jaunt I found myself in phoenix and made a stop at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Snowbird Hide-a-way, Taliesin West. (Taliesin West, by the way, is also the name of my prototype band franchise.) More and more, I’m finding that I love Frank Lloyd Wright. He deserves all the praise and acclaim he’s recieved.

A Welsh word, “Taliesin” means “shining brow,” so named because it sits on the brown of a hill overlooking a valley below. It was Frank Lloyd Wright’s winter home, school, and studio. Started in 1937 by his apprentices, whose construction skills are evidetn throughout the complex, it is constructed almost entirely of materials found on or near the site. Taliesin West is very um..loosely assembled, to put it nicely. I loved seeing the crooked and splintering beams and loose mortars. FLW wanted it to be a place of the earth and a place where his apprentices could learn by doing. The building stands as a testament to his wish, and any flaws only make it more beautiful.

Statue marking the entrance to the compound. It looks like something FLW could have designed, but I’m not sure and the tour guide was also clueless. There was a lot of art at Taliesin but this was the only statue that I really liked. The other objects were mostly cheap ceramic sculptures bought in Japanese markets.

The rear of the building. This area is currently home to Taliesin Architects – a firm charged with continuing the design legacy of Frank Lloyd Wright. I expected TW to be frozen in time, museum-like, but it is an incredibly active place. Besides Taliesin Architects, it is also used by The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation and it remains the summer studio for the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture.

The front door – infamously understated and adorned with kitschy asian sculpture.

The living room area. I loved the scale of this room. Thoughtfully proportioned and comfortable without being overbearing. Most of the rooms originally used only canvas panels for ceiling enclosure. Unfortunately, the canvas doesn’t hold up in the harsh dessert environment and has to be replaced often. I forget the numbers listed by the tour guide, but Taliesin West is incredibly expensive to preserve and maintain.

One last shot. All the water features on the site are fed by a series of wells designed by Wright. The bottled water sold in the gift shop, however, was not drawn from these wells. Stay tuned for more from the trip.