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Pitt on rebuilding New Orleans, fatherhood

The “Today” show's Ann Curry talks with the actor about eco-friendly housing in the region, and the joys of being a dad.
/ Source: TODAY

Nearly a year after Hurricane Katrina, Brad Pitt sat down with the “Today” show's Ann Curry to discuss the devastation in New Orleans, environmentally friendly development, and his new role as a dad.

The rebuilding process in New Orleans has been slow, so has the clean-up. The need for affordable housing is chronic. Brad Pitt recently teamed up with the non-profit group Global Green to try to spur green-friendly building in the Crescent City. As he tells us, it is a need that is way overdue.

Brad Pitt: I'm baffled because the people here on the ground have not gotten the money yet. They have not received restitution.

Nearly a year after Katrina, Brad Pitt sees firsthand a city still ravaged.

Pitt: We can get in the car from this spot and we can drive for two hours, and you will see this. We will see more of this. And it's staggering. It's unsettling. Ann Curry: By some estimates, something like half — 50 percent — of this city is still abandoned. Pitt: Yeah, it's shocking. In one of our greatest cities. But you see it, it's house on top of house on top of car. And this is a story you'll find street after street.Imagine going through the trauma of this, of watching everything you own be swept away, maybe loss of life, and then sitting in this limbo for a year. Wanting to get your life back. But not knowing whether it's even possible. Are there gonna be schools here? Are the hospitals gonna be up and running? Are your neighbors gonna be back here?

To this shattered city, Pitt is bringing a new idea called green design — that is, a way to rebuild using materials that are less harmful to the environment, and cheaper for people to live in.

Pitt: Right now 45 percent of our pollution comes from the creation of our buildings and the operation of our buildings, which is a staggering number.

Joining the non-profit group Global Green, Pitt announced an architectural competition to green design a 12-unit apartment complex. It drew 3,000 registrants from all over the world, now narrowed down to six finalists.

Curry: Not only are you talking about it, you also put some money into this project?Pitt: Yeah, sure, I'm sponsoring this competition. I'm invested in this competition.Curry: About $100,000?

So far. But my goal is to see something tangible, to see something built that can become an example, a template ... a flagship for other people who are facing rebuilding.

The finalists suggested ways to build that could cut energy costs by as much as 90 percent, and to use materials that would decrease the risks of asthma and other health risks.

The excitement generated over plans for a single apartment complex is an indication of just how acutely help is needed. Saundra Reed is a community leader:

Saundra Reed: Everything, every single thing about our lives is impacted. Katrina is still raging for us every single day. In my neighborhood, which was 70 percent low- to moderate-income renters, they can't afford to come home because rent is so high.Curry: What do you say to people who react by thinking, you know what, this type of housing is too far-fetched for people that needed houses yesterday?Pitt: Absolutely. [We're concerned with] building quickly and building with as little labor force as possible. We are sitting here in the middle of New Orleans and they have a shortage of homes, rent rates are through the roof. A family living here is struggling with $100 a month in electricity bills, $200 dollars a month, and you can get that ... you can knock that down 90 percent, where it's $10, $20 dollars, and it is possible. And relatively easy as soon as we change our building practices.

Brad Pitt, who has been bringing attention to some of the world's most desperate places, is now trying to do something for New Orleans. And he is a man just getting started.

Curry: Something is happening to you to make you want to do this stuff because you're doing more and more.Pitt: Man, I got kids now. And it really changes your perspective on the world. And, you know, I've had my day. I've had my day. I made some films and I've really had a very fortunate life. And it's time for me to share that a bit.Curry: Angie says that the reason why she does so much humantarian work is because, having children, she feels a greater responsibility.Pitt: It's true. It changes ... it completely changes your perspective. And certainly takes the focus off yourself, which I'm really grateful for. [Laughs]Pitt: I'm really grateful to them.Curry: You tell ...Pitt: I'm so tired of thinking about myself. I'm kinda sick of myself.I can't do justice to it anymore than any other parent can. You feel that you want to be there and you don't want to miss out on anything. And it's a true joy. And you want to be there for them if they need anything. It's a true joy.Curry: Love.Pitt: Yeah, it's ... oh, a very profound love. Yeah.Curry: Wonderful.Pitt: Best thing I ever did. You know, you can write a book, you can make a movie, you can draw, paint a painting, but having kids is really the most extraordinary thing I've ever taken on. And, man, if I can get a burp out of that [baby], that little thing, I'll feel such a sense of accomplishment.

Almost a year after the flood waters of Katrina decimated this city, piles of garbage still line the streets, the rotting remains of houses haunt neighborhoods and afforable housing is hard to find.

Pitt: I'm telling you, man, these people need help and are not being addressed like they should be. They are not getting the adequate support or the support fast enough.

To try and change the conditions still found in New Orleans, Brad Pitt joined forces with the non-profit group Global Green to sponsor an architectural competition to design a green 12-unit apartment complex.

Matt Petersen, Global Green CEO: One of the things we asked all of the designers to do is focus on energy use.

Brad and Global Green CEO Matt Petersen showed me the six finalists culled from more than 3000 registrants from all over the world. The first design was from Chicago.

“On the River”: Brian Foster and David Brininstool of Brininstool and Lynch, Chicago, Ill.

Petersen: This one did it interesting in the use of solar power and energy efficiency growing upon a creative idea of having a solar barge. That may or may not be feasible in the end, but it showed some creativity about how they wanted to approach the energy challenge.

The jury judging the entries picked designs that promised to generate as much energy as the buildings would consume.

Pitt: Understand, this is the way of the future. We've got to address these issues.  It's just a matter of time and we might as well start here. It's a great opportunity to do so, this rebuilding effort.Curry: What convinces you that this is the wave of the future?Pitt: Oh, because it's inevitable. The dependency on oil, the ... look at our gas prices. And the health rates. We just can't keep consuming ourselves into extinction. We've got to regroup and adopt a new paradigm, a new way of thinking.

The next finalist's design relies on newer green technology that uses the temperature of the earth to heat or cool the apartment.

“The Levee”: Drew Lang of Drew Lang Architects, New York, N.Y.

Petersen: They also draw upon a geothermal cooling and heating system, which in this area actually would work pretty well.

But many of the best green ideas are old ideas and that is what we saw in the third finalist, who uses a traditional New Orleans design called a shotgun loft to help cool the house with air flow and cross ventilation.

“NOLA ShotgunLOFT”: Fred Schwartz of Schwartz Architecture, New York, N.Y.

Petersen: Well there are a lot of natural shading and ventilation ideas that really stood out. The basic design of the shotgun loft is air circulation and cross ventaliation in the home.

The fourth finalist also uses the traditional shotgun loft design, He also designed all the living areas on the second floor in case New Orleans floods again.

“Rebuild Renew: Sustainable Design for the Holy Cross District”: Ken Gowland, New Orleans, La.

Pitt: It's from a local architect, which we were very happy that a local guy made it in. This one really draws on the venacular of New Orleans housing.Gowland: We sort of used the historic types of buildings that we build in New Orleans, which makes sense not just from an aesthetic point but also in dealing with flooding, climate, heat.

All the entries rely heavily on the use of recycled and energy efficient materials, like flourescent lights and reclaimed wood and timber. But what stood out for the judges on this design is the way the green roof is incorporated into the plans.

“GreeN.O.LA”: Matthew Berman and Andrew Kotchen of Workshop/APD, New York, N.Y.

Pitt: In planting the roofs, they are good for one — capturing water and two — keeping the place clean. And it's relatively easy to do.

“Breathe”: Steve Dumez of Eskew+Dumez+Ripple, New Orleans, La.

The sixth finalist, also from New Orleans, designed windmills and river turbines to generate the electricity necessary to heat and cool the apartments.

Harnessing available energy is what Global Green wants builders everywhere to do.

Pitt: Yeah, again the change in thought is more ... it's more harnessing the available energy that's there.Curry: You know what's really interesting about this is that this kind of thinking is oftentimes just reserved ... it's reserved for rich people, yet this kind of ...Petersen: Right, and it's a real misconception. I mean, just the whole green movement is ... it's kind of misunderstood. There's a real stigma with ... that it's for the rich and that it's about tree hugging and saving whales. But there are these benefits, but it goes so far beyond that.  And it's really a question of our way of life. And can we live healthier. Pitt: What if a city could actually produce more energy than it consumed? What if it could actually filter the air instead of pollute the air? And this is a new paradigm that we're gonna have to adopt. It's a long time coming, but we gonna have to start now and start advancing these technologies.