Brad Pitt started the Make It Right foundation in 2007 to rebuild homes for residents in New Orleans who lost theirs to Hurricane Katrina. Which would have been plenty admirable if that was the extent of the mission. But the foundation figured, since all eyes are on the rebuilding of Katrina, wouldn't this be a fine chance to make an ironclad case for green building?
Brad Pitt, Tom Darden (the CEO of Make it Right), and S. Richard Fedrizzi, the President of the US Green Building Council, all attended the Clinton Global Initiative this year to report on the progress of their project, which so far has brought 13 affordable, super-green LEED certified homes to the 9th Ward. I caught up with Darden and Fedrizzi to find out how, with Brad Pitt's help, their project could help spark a green building revolution.
Talking the Future of Green Building with Tom Darden and S. Richard Fedrizzi
I sat down with Fedrizzi and Darden in a conference room in the Sheraton New York, where CGI has stirred the place into a frenzy, and you're likely to bump into heads of state, green leaders and celebrities on the way to the bathroom. (Example: while waiting outside the interview room, Usher strolled up with his entourage. He said hello. "Hi Usher," I said. He nodded and continued on his way. Moving on ...)
Darden and Fedrizzi had a lot to say, and were understandably enthused about their project: though 13 completed homes may not sound like much, it's actually a pretty big deal. These homes--and the 140 or so more that are on the way--offer tangible proof that homes can be efficient, green, and affordable. Even though they incorporate solar power, geothermal heating and cooling systems, Energy Star appliances, tankless water heaters, energy conserving insulation and lighting systems, and more, these houses cost only $130 per square foot.
Talking Efficiency--and Affordability
The average house costs $150, Fedrizzi notes. Through modular building techniques, the use of smaller-scale, more efficient systems, and lowered prices for materials, the Make It Right homes have been built cheaper than most not-so-green homes.
And though these may very well represent the homes of the future, they don't look like cylindrical pods or anything. No, both Fedrizzi and Darden stressed the importance of designing and building the houses to make the 9th Ward residents who lost theirs in Katrina feel like they were returning home. And it looks like they've succeeded--despite having vastly improved storm prevention features like 5'-8' foot elevations and impact resistant glass, they retain the classic aesthetic of the houses that made up the neighborhood before the storm.
Darden hopes the project will inspire even more than the green building community--he hopes Make It Right can help answer the question of how to rebuild scattered home sites under any conditions: neighborhoods hit by natural disaster, foreclosed developments, and so on.
Pitt, Fedrizzi, and a family living in a Make It Right home at CGI
Make It Right, and Bring On the Green Buildings
But the biggest point that Darden and Fedrizzi want to stress is this: green building is here. We can build quality, affordable, great looking homes that conserve incredible amounts of energy. And we can do it right now.
"It puts all of our priorities back in one place. No one can say 'we can't do it'," Fedrizzi says of his motivation to get this project done and into the spotlight. And he's right. While many developers are still suspicious or just unfamiliar with 'green buildings'--and convinced they're too expensive to pursue--a project like this goes a long way in showing the nation that it can be done, and done well. There's no arguing with those costs--and the buildings look great.
Everyone wins--New Orleans residents who tragically lost their homes get help moving back to their hometown. They'll live in great green homes (and save hundreds of dollars on their electric bills). The world gets an example of how green building is indisputable future of development. And that's how Brad Pitt (and Fedrizzi and Darden, of course) may help ignite a green building revolution.