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In the autumn of 2005, the Lower 9th Ward, a multi-cultural precinct in the east of New Orleans, was devastated in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Today this quarter of the city is an enormous wasteland, with nothing to remind people of the community atmosphere of this historic part of the city.
A hybrid of art, architecture, cinema and media, The Pink Project was conceived as an informational, commemorative, communication tool to raise awareness and activate individual involvement in the rebuilding of New Orleans.
While filming a movie in New Orleans, actor Brad Pitt became seduced by the powerful image of a pink-clad CGI house within the lush Louisiana surroundings. He saw the visual power of pink houses as a metaphor, representing the future of renewed housing for those displaced by the recent disasters. Working together with the architectural firm GRAFT, the idea was to create an installation that would generate global attention – a community of pink houses constructed in the Lower 9th Ward –the neighborhood hardest hit by Hurricane Katrina.
With the vision fresh in his mind, he picked up the phone and described the concept to the Los Angeles office of GRAFT. A hurried telephone conversation was followed by a lengthy brainstorming session over a number of bottles of Pinot Noir. The master plan was confirmed, and work began the next morning.
150 randomly scatted pink-clad structures were erected to occupy 14 city blocks within the Lower 9th Ward, symbolizing the vision for future housing for the areas residents.
The installation of 150 pink houses started as 429 pink geometric shapes scattered over the 14-square block site where real Make it Right homes would later be built. As donations came in to sponsor the cost of a real house, the pieces of the symbolic houses were “righted” on their lots.
The Pink Project inspired tens of thousands of people to contribute 12 million dollars. It was a potent and pivotal event that brought global attention to the challenges and possibilities of rebuilding the Lower 9th Ward.
Excluding the industrial and swamp areas north of the Florida Canal, the neighborhood of the Lower 9th Ward is about 2 km from east to west and 3.2 km from north to south. Three major avenues cross the developed portion of the neighborhood, each with bridges over the Industrial Canal.
In Louisiana’s colonial era this was plantation land. The portion closer to the river was developed for residential use at the start of the 19th century at the same time as the Bywater area. In 1834 the U.S. Army established the Jackson Barracks here. As late as the 1870s the area behind St. Claude was still mostly small farms with scattered residences, and the area on the “woods” (away from the river) side of Claiborne mostly undeveloped cypress swamp.
What became the Lower 9th Ward did not become distinct from the parts of the 9th Ward just upriver until the Industrial Canal was dredged at the start of the 1920s, bisecting the 9th Ward. At this time, people started referring to the area “above” (up river) from the Canal as the “Upper” 9th Ward, and this area as the “Lower”.
The Industrial Canal prompted development of the land farther back along the Canal, and provided steady work for labor in the area. As shipping became containerized in the later 20th century, demand for labor declined with negative economic consequences on the neighborhood.
The ultimate goal of The Pink Project is to transfer the attention received via the bold art installation into a fund raising effort to build actual homes to replace the 150 structures, rebuilding the Lower Ninth Ward community. The Make it Right website has implemented an innovative donation tool allowing visitors from anywhere in the world to visit the site, virtually, and maneuver a house to purchase specific elements to donate to the community, eventually building up the inventory required to construct all 150 homes. For the homes, GRAFT and Pitt commissioned designs from 13 architects representing local, national, and international perspectives.
This article is originally published in Style me to the moon.