Brad Pitt announced he's sponsoring an environmentally friendly design competition to rebuild parts of New Orleans devastated by Hurricane Katrina.
"Our goal is to kick off the rebuilding effort. It's certainly long overdue and I can only go from the reports that we get ... that it's behind, absolutely. People are frustrated," Pitt said Thursday by telephone from Namibia. "We could possibly build something that was better and took into account the historical traditions of the city and the voices of the people and turn this into some kind of good."
The actor is teaming up with Global Green USA, a national environmental organization, on the design project. Pitt, who's with Angelina Jolie in Namibia where they're expecting a child, will lead a jury of architects and local leaders to choose designs by six finalists who will then work with local neighborhoods on more detailed proposals.
Pitt declined to answer questions about the upcoming birth, however. "Absolutely not," he said, laughing.
Widespread speculation holds that Jolie intends to give birth in Namibia and that the couple plan to marry there. But Pitt would only say: "Namibia's just a country we're very fond of. It's a beautiful land and hospitable people and a place that we want to be for the time being."
The design competition will focus on the Holy Cross neighborhood in the impoverished Lower 9th Ward. Designs will be submitted in June and the finalists chosen in July.
Pitt, 42, described his reaction to watching the scenes of the devastation caused by Katrina. "Truthfully, I dare say we witnessed, to our shame, the fact that there's a portion of our society that's being dismissed and that needs to be rectified and I thought that was a real casualty overall from the event."
Pitt said it was both the humanitarian and design elements of the project that interested him.
"Good architecture is not about building a pretty box and putting it on a piece of land. It's about the needs of the people inhabiting it. It's about the sun, wind, the temperature of the place, their well-being, their quality of life, they go hand in hand," he said.
Pitt said he has a huge interest in architecture.
"I am a bit of a junkie. It's inexplicable really. I believe we creatures are very susceptible to our surroundings. They can actually improve our mode of life and I personally am very affected ... when I walk through an intelligent building. It inspires me," said Pitt. "To me it's like walking through a piece of art and, coupling that now with the green movement of the smarter architecture — of the healthier buildings with great design — is a very exciting prospect to me."
Matt Petersen, president of Global Green USA, said that Pitt had "really educated himself not just on architecture, but green design as well. ... There will be a lot of experienced people on there as well as Brad."
The impetus for the competition stems from both a desire to help rebuild the devastated city, and to ensure that at least some of the reconstruction occurs in an environmentally aware manner that reflect a vision of New Orleans in the future.