Tom Darden is the Executive Director of the Make It Right Foundation, an organization founded by actor Brad Pitt to build 150 green, high design homes in New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward, a neighborhood devastated by Hurricane Katrina. Darden said he wants to take what has been a local conversation about green construction to the national level.
Make It Right’s Tom Darden said he’s used to seeing looks of disappointment when he takes the stage instead of Brad Pitt, but maybe he’s selling himself short. His passion for the organization’s green building project in New Orlean’s Ninth Ward is obvious and he’s a commited activist. Besides, it’s the homes themselves that are the real stars and, honestly, who doesn’t love the Big Easy?
Darden joined Pitt when the actor launched Make It Right in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. What started as a three-week volunteer mission turned into a full-time job for Darden who is working with a team of world-class architects and designers to build 150 completely green (and conceptually stunning) homes for residents of one the city’s hardest hit areas.
Darden’s presentation at Friday’s conference was at times an emotional one. Whether choking up when recalling a MIR homeowner donating his energy savings back to the organization or showing a flash of righteous indignation at criticism of the added cost of cutting-edge design, Darden wears his emotions on his sleeve, which seems appropriate given the stakes. Make It Right wants to rebuild the Ninth Ward, rebuild it green, and rebuild it beautiful.
“The symbolism of rebuilding the Ninth Ward sends a national message,” he said. “What will it take to get green designers and builders to build these kinds of homes on a national level?”
Innovating new ways to drive down costs of building the LEED Platinum, cradle-to-cradle homes is a big part of what makes Make It Right a leader in the green building movement. Steep initial costs have slowly declined over time as builders, designers, and architects have found more efficient ways to meet the rigorous LEED standards. For example, Darden showed a wireless light switch that eliminates about 70% of electrical costs in initial building.
Building them green is not all that matters – the homes have to also be able to withstand flooding. Most of the homes are raised and, in one case, the house actually floats. Darden also showed off a new duplex design and one for a new multi-family building, evidence of Make It Right’s plans for scaling up in the future.
Darden believes the work they’ve done in New Orleans has far-reaching implications. “We think that this could really roll out beyond New Orleans to other markets around the US,” Darden said. “At Make It Right, we don’t think it should take a disaster to make green building available and affordable.”