Can Ugly Homes Make It Right?

A home from Brad Pitt's Make It Right FoundationThere's nothing ugly about Brad Pitt or his desire to rebuild homes for Katrina victims through his foundation, Make It Right.

However, some grumble that the ultra-modern green buildings are, well, fugly.

The New York Times just covered the newly-built community locally dubbed the "Brad Pitt houses." Despite all the effort and good intentions some feel the homes might have ignored one basic need of its intended audience: the comfort of the familiar.

The architectural diversity displayed in the first 15 completed houses please the design crowd but lacks reference to the area's history. As the article states, "Indeed, the houses seem better suited to an exhibition of avant-garde architecture than to a neighborhood struggling to recover." The article quotes Jennifer Pearl, a broker in the ninth-ward as saying, "...had [Pitt] come here with houses that looked like what had been here before, he probably could have had four times, five times as many houses up by now."

Great design is commendable, but does it lose value when it destroys its stated objective, that of returning normalcy to those who have suffered? Design and building results from another non-profit suggests that it might.

The shared design challenge of "returning normalcy" is addressed differently by Homes For Our Troops, a nonprofit that builds accessible LEED-certified homes for severely injured Iraq and Afghanistan veterans.

Like Pitt's Make It Right homes, these homes are built with green integrity. However, their external design is by far more traditional in appearance.

Certainly, Homes For Our Troops (HFOT) has the advantage of building in areas of the country that are not flood-prone. But thisHomes For Our Troops doesn't mean that the HFOT homes aren't without challenge: each must be personalized and built for a severely injured service member.

A traditional-looking home might prove more effective at providing a sense of "normal." The comfort of feeling that your house "blends in" with the larger community may help with the readjustment into daily routine. Traditional homes don't draw unwanted attention, either.

Few traumatized people are likely to desire living in brightly-hued, show-stopping houses worthy of a bus tour. Most would probably prefer rebuilding their lives outside any spotlight at all.

The Make It Right homes are to be commended for their ingenuity and generosity, but, called into question for the unwarranted attention they may draw to those who don't want fanfare.

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You have struck the nail right on the head. I am the architect that designed the Homes For Our Troops house you see above. Many hours went into carefully designing this house for the complete comfort of the veteran who received it and for the community that embraced him. Not just interior comfort but also his comfort in rejoining and re-connecting to his new neighborhood. Shouldn't we draw design inspiration from the beauty of New Orleans and the comfort of it's people? I love the art of architecture, but visual aesthetics alone does NOT constitute good design. In my view the success of a design is measured by the comfort of all the people who live and work IN AND AROUND the design. During an interview I gave to a local reporter, I commented that the house was deliberately designed look ordinary, his response back to me was “it’s just beautiful”.

April 06 2011 at 1:25 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply