Decoding Design

A Gehry home, created for Brad Pitt's foundation, conveys the power of design

A Gehry home, created for Brad Pitt's foundation, conveys the power of design

Posting in Architecture

Referencing a traditional style yet featuring design innovations, a house created by Frank Gehry for the Make It Right Foundation illustrates how beauty and smart design can improve lives.

Best known for the epic, swooping lines and shimmering exteriors of the Bilbao Guggenheim Museum in Spain and the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, architect Frank Gehry is hardly associated with smaller-scale residential projects--especially those coated in light pink and purple paint.

But the latest high-profile Gehry creation, unveiled last week in New Orleans, is such a structure. And it's the only Gehry home in Louisiana and one of only 22 Gehry-designed houses in the United States. Designed for actor Brad Pitt's Make It Right Foundation, the duplex is the latest in a series of striking new dwellings meant to offer families affected by Hurricane Katrina a fresh place to live--and thrive--for years to come.

The multi-family home, which features one two-bedroom unit and a one-bedroom unit, is designed so that each of the two adjacent houses experiences maximum privacy. The 1,780 square-foot home also features a number of earth-conscious details. These include solar panels that multi-task as a waterproof canopy, as well as a shading device for the decks on the rooftop. In addition, Gehry and his colleagues included a highly energy efficient central heating and air conditioning system and a tankless water heater. The carpeting, cabinetry, kitchen countertops, and wall paint are all environmentally friendly as well. The wood used in the frame, the siding, and windows and doors are all made of highly durable materials.

“I wanted to make a house that I would like to live in and one that responded to the history, vernacular and climate of New Orleans,” Gehry said of the project, in a press release.

As for the soft pastel exteriors?

“I love the colors that the homeowner chose. I could not have done it better,” the architect said.

When Pitt launched the foundation five years ago, he and his collaborators challenged some of the world's most prominent and stylistically adventurous designers with a very specific brief. The homes by Gehry and the others Make It Right enlisted had to reference a traditional New Orleans style: either a single-family house known in the area as a "shotgun" or a multi-family home known as a "duplex." The structures had to be able to withstand future violent storms. They had to be made with certified non-toxic and reusable materials. They also needed to be environmentally friendly and affordable. And, because Make It Right was recruiting highly imaginative architects, the designs were required to be "aesthetically advanced," according to the organization's Web site.

Twenty-one architectural firms, including Adjaye Associates, Atelier Hitoshi Abe, Morphosis, Shigeru Ban Architects, and William McDonough and Partners, among others, have designed buildings for Make It Right. The goal is to provide 150 homes for the New Orleans citizens in the Lower 9th Ward, the area that was most devastated by Katrina in 2005.

Clearly, Gehry and his associates at Gehry Partners carefully chose every aspect of the home to fulfill Make It Right's brief--and to provide a hardy house that would both fit easily into its local surroundings and reference the area's history. They also offered innovations such as the solar panel/canopy that look interesting, too.

“Frank’s work proves that beautiful, elegant, ground-breaking designs can go hand-in-hand with the practical needs and culture of a community,” Tom Darden, Make It Right’s executive director, said in a statement.

Images: Chad Chenier Photography/Make It Right

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Reena Jana

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Reena Jana has written for the New York Times, Wired, Harvard Business Review online, Fast Company, Architectural Record, Artforum, Time Out New York, Harper's Bazaar, and GQ. Previously, she was the innovation department editor at BusinessWeek. She holds degrees from Columbia University and Barnard College. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure