I just returned from the International Studies Conference in New Orleans last weekend. While there, M. and I took a tour of the city and the still very noticeable effects of Katrina. Amidst all the empty lots and vacant homes of the Lower 9th Ward, all these little funky, colorful houses are popping up: homes with solar panels and homes that can float should the area flood again (locals apparently refer to them as the “Brad Pitt Houses” for the nonprofit that’s building many of them). Most stand up on stilts and come in interesting geometric shapes, with some carrying the faint spirit of the New Orleans’ traditional shotgun house. Since the devastation, the area has become a laboratory for green building ideas and residents are generally happy to have them although there are some criticisms of the design sensibilities:
James Dart, a Manhattan-based architect who was born and raised in New Orleans, described the houses as “alien, sometimes even insulting,” adding, “the biggest problem is that they are not grounded in the history of New Orleans architecture.” But, like other architects I spoke to, he expressed admiration for Mr. Pitt. “He deserves a great deal of credit,” Mr. Dart said, adding that Mr. Pitt had “done more for New Orleans” than any government agency.