From Frank Gehry-designed pastel duplexes to amphibious shotgun shacks to star-studded “half-way there” fundraisers, the Make It Right Foundation’s green rebuilding efforts in New Orleans’ Hurricane Katrina-ravaged Lower Ninth Ward have gotten a fair amount of play on this here blog.
Founded by infallible human being Brad Pitt along with William McDonough, this aggressive — and expensive — display of humanitarian-minded architectural razzle-dazzle centered around sustainable, storm-resistant, and frequently avant-garde homes has hit a few bumps in the road as of late; bumps explored in detail last spring by the New Republic. In her take down-y article, Lydia Depillis suggests that the foundation's LEED Platinum-certified homes available in 21 different Cradle to Cradle-inspired designs— the foundation's initial goal was to complete 150 of them by the end of 2013 — are proving to be “a drag on New Orleans.”
Referring to the Make It Right neighborhood as a “a retirement-community version of its former self,” Depillis explains that because the site in which Pitt and his charity decided to erect the cutting-edge green enclave is so sparsely populated, essential public services, restaurants, and retailers have yet to materialize. As a result, prospective buyers have turned to other rebuilt neighborhoods that offer more than a stunning assemblage of modern homes designed by famous architects. The current, primarily elderly Make It Right inhabitants are “living in futuristic homes that most Americans would covet, and yet there's not a supermarket — or even a fast food restaurant — for miles," wrote Depillis.
And then there was the "wrenching deviation" of November 2012 in which the prospective buyer pool was opened up to first-responders and teachers who didn’t live in the neighborhood prior to Hurricane Katrina. Previously, only area residents displaced by the storm were eligible to purchase the homes.
Obviously, the folks at Make It Right were none too thrilled with Depillis’ article.
Now, it would appear that some of the Make It Right homes, homes that proudly and loudly wear a bright green badge of resiliency and strength, are already rotting. More specifically, the decks and exterior steps of some 30 homes built by the high-profile nonprofit between 2008 and 2010 are showing the tell-tale signs of decay.
The decks and stairs in question were built using TimberSIL, a glass-infused treated wood product that was used by Make It Right because, unlike conventional treated lumber, it offers “an effective barrier in lumber to rot, decay and common wood problems without using toxic ingredients.” The wood, vetted by Make It Right's team of building experts and equipped with a 40-year guarantee, was designed to be “mulched and composted at the end of its life-cycle,” Make It Right representative Taylor Royale explains to the New Orleans Advocate. “In trying to be sustainable and green, we didn’t want to use decking lumber that had chemicals in."
As Make It Right recently discovered, the nontoxic wood product is "unable to withstand moisture, which obviously is a big problem in New Orleans,” Royale explains. “Most of them [the green building products selected by the foundation] work, and they’re great, and we’re always testing new products to see if they can help make the homes more sustainable, more affordable or both.”
Even Pitt himself has stepped in to offer an explanation through an official statement issued through the foundation: “Make It Right is ambitious and tries new things all the time in order to make our homes better. Where we find innovative products that didn’t perform, we move quickly to correct these things for our homeowners.”
On that note, Make It Right, true to its name, has already swooped into action and is replacing the decking in all 30 of the homes that contain TimberSIL, even at homes where the wood isn’t already full-on rotting or showing signs of decay. The six-month project is estimated to cost the foundation in the ballpark of $150,000.
“It’s not something where porches are falling and houses are falling. That’s not what’s happening, but they are making corrective moves, and that’s a good thing,” Make It Right resident Robert Green tells The Advocate. Green’s own home contains the treated wood; he hadn’t noticed that his second-story deck was starting to rot until workers contracted by the foundation showed up to remove and replace it.
As for TimberSIL, Make It Right has contacted the company to “to put them on notice of the defects in the product and to seek to recoup our costs.” Royale notes that thus far the South Carolina-based manufacturer has been “unresponsive.” She adds: “We hope to have a candid discussion with the company and have asked them to put their insurance carrier on notice. We prefer to resolve this short of litigation, but we are prepared to pursue all legal remedies if necessary.”
Joe Embry, TimberSIL’s executive vice-president, did respond to The Advocate via email and expressed concern while also standing behind the performance of the product. “TimberSIL is well aware of the good work of Make It Right Foundation and regrets that these concerns have arisen.” He notes that his company will “begin the process of gathering the necessary information to evaluate the concerns and achieve a satisfactory outcome.”
In 2010, long before the treated lumber starting to show signs of decay in New Orlean’s oppressively balmy climes, Make It Right switched over to traditional yellow pine wood for decking. Tom Pepper, executive director of local rebuilding nonprofit Common Ground Relief, suggests that yellow pine was probably the way to go all along: “You’re building homes in a subtropical climate with lots of rain and termites, and you know, sometimes you have to make exceptions. You have to build for your climate, and especially when you’re building wooden homes in a very damp climate, you have to go with what you know works, is my feeling.”
While Make It Right performs damage control and works to rectify the situation on the ground — a situation that, due to the Pitt associations, has gotten a ton of exposure from tabloids and Hollywood gossip websites including Radar.com which, in true hyperbolic fashion, states that entire Make It Right homes are "rotting from the inside out!"— the foundation continues work on the remaining 50 homes in the Lower Ninth Ward while branching out into other cities and communities in need of affordable green housing including Newark, N.J., Kansas City, MO, and Fort Peck, Mont.
Via [The Advocate]
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