Brad Pitt talks architecture, sustainability with Bill Maher

Liberal comedian Bill Maher is reliably hilarious and pointed as host of HBO’s weekly “Real Time with Bill Maher.” Even when he’s being preachy in his “New Rules” feature, which concludes each show, he’s damned funny (perhaps literally – Maher is a devout agnostic).

But “Real Time,” overall, can be hit-or-miss, depending on the lineup of guests. After the Maher monologue, he usually starts by interviewing a single guest, in person or via satellite, then moves on to that week’s panel, where politics and culture are batted around like a piñata. 

The last show had a surprising choice to start the show in the chair opposite Maher: actor Brad Pitt. Pitt, despite all the tabloid nonsense (being married to Angelina doesn’t help) and enormous global celebrity, is a rather serious guy about social issues, though not in an annoying, Sean Penn kind of way. (Pitt is also obviously very intelligent and comically self-deprecating, which is flat-out disgustingly unfair.)

More to the point, Pitt runs Make It Right, a nonprofit that is building “homes that are affordable, sustainable and true to the culture of New Orleans.”

“That was not an act of God, that was a man-made disaster,” Pitt told Maher (, referring to the hurricanes of 2005 that leveled much of the Crescent City. A few million more bucks for the levees would’ve saved hundreds of lives, he said. Four years later, it’s our responsibility to “make it right” and bring back the city residents that did survive but lost their homes and are still gone.

“The assistance that people were getting to come back was not enough to build what they had before, and certainly not enough to build safely,” Pitt said. “So we saw an opportunity to bring in some great minds in architecture and help people solve the problems of living there.”

Pitt said things are working, and that it’s clear that the future of sustainable housing can be seen rising from the ruins of New Orleans.

Then things got silly, when Maher noted that Pitt is well known for his appreciation of great architecture.

“I don’t know anything about architecture,” said Maher, in an uncharacteristic moment of spaciness. “But sometimes when I’m driving around …  I see a building, and I go, ‘Oh that’s a great building.’ But I don’t know why I’m saying that. Why am I saying that?”

Pitt, a touch embarrassed, looked away and laughed with the audience. Recovering, he said, “It’s just a great building.”

He went on: “What we, I guess, don’t understand is that it defines how we move through a city, how we experience our day. … Architecture – the misconception is that it’s just about aesthetics. What it’s really all about is problem-solving for particular climates, like New Orleans, or like L.A.”

Maher: “But it must be something about aesthetics to make me go, ‘That’s a great building.’”

Pitt: “Yeah sure but it’s just not that … and that’s my point…” Trailing off, he shrugged his shoulders, gave a half eye-roll and looked at the audience, garnering more laughter at Maher’s dizziness.

‘Catalyst for redevelopment’
Make It Right is focused on rebuilding the Lower 9th Ward. According to the organization’s Web site (, Pitt “began by working with Global Green to sponsor an architecture competition aimed at generating ideas about how to rebuild sustainably.”

There are 14 architecture firms from around the world (four are New Orleans-based) that have come up with 14 designs for homes. “While each of the 14 duplex designs is unique, the architects tackled some common problems and arrived at innovative solutions that could change the way multi-family homes are built,” the site says.

They include: flexibility, integration with the street, “landscaping as a design and energy element,” and affordability.

One Philadelphia firm is involved in the effort: Kieran Timberlake. Their design can be seen here:

Again, here’s the Real Time YouTube link: Pitt starts talking about Make It Right at about the 3:30 mark; Maher starts his ramble about cool-looking buildings at about 4:40.

– Posted by Thomas J. Walsh

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