Welcome to Moonlighting, a new Curbed column in which the talented Raina Cox of If the Lamp Shade Fits takes a look at design players whose first job may not have been design. Some triumph, some flop, and some should never, ever give up their day job.
For Hollywood superstar Brad Pitt, role playing the mythical warrior Achilles or a pugilistic figment of Ed Norton's imagination pale in comparison to his dream job, that of an architect. The actor believes dreaming up buildings taps into primal childhood instincts, once saying, "Architecture is like play to me. As a boy, you play with Tinker Toys, Lincoln Logs, Legos, and you get interested in how things are made, like cars and drills and all that. Years later you come back around to what interested you as a boy. Now if I have something that I'm dealing with that's causing me a lot of stress, my mind goes to architecture. I walk around the yard and start thinking about what I need to do to the house structurally. It's similar to puzzles in that way, like a crossword puzzle or anything else I can put my mind into. It's a relief for me."
In 1994, Pitt scooped up a small estate in the Los Feliz area of L.A. with a Craftsman-style main house and two outbuildings. Tackling the smaller structures first, the actor was bitten by the architecture bug. His initial fascination with Mission-style building evolved over several years into a love affair with contemporary design, and he gave up collecting Tiffany lamps and concentrated on carving six-ton bathtubs out of travertine boulders. He imported tons of the stone from a quarry near Rome sheathing walls, laying floors, carving counters, and creating enormous water features.
Describing his design journey with the property, the actor waxed poetic. "As I work my way through it, I have become a lover of all architecture," he said. "I am fascinated and obsessed with where it's going. Like art and music, architecture reflects society and where society is heading." Pitt cited Tadao Ando, Rem Koolhaas, and Frank Gehry as his favorite architects.
In 2001, Pitt and his blushing bride-at-the-time Jennifer Aniston bought a $14M Normandy-style mansion in Beverly Hills. Proving that yes, celebs are just like us, new husband Pitt's decorating aspirations were relegated to the basement. He hired Gehry to design a wine cellar to house the couple's $5M collection of rare vintages, later describing their initial meeting as "just about as much fun as I've ever had." The two forged a friendship, and Gehry included Pitt on the design team of a controversial seafront redevelopment in Hove, England. The actor's involvement was announced in 2005 to spur new interest in the project, which had stalled out after two years. Pitt was assigned the task of designing a restaurant and a penthouse for a luxury high-rise building. The project was scrapped in 2009 when the credit crunch forced the developer to pull out.
Pitt's and Gehry's design-based bromance must have taken a sour turn during the Hove collaboration. In December 2005, when asked about their friendship, Gehry responded that he had only met Pitt twice—once in his office for two minutes and again at a dinner. Burn! They later made up and Gehry's firm submitted one of 13 "green" designs Pitt commissioned in 2007 as part of his "Make It Right" project in New Orleans. The actor personally committed $5M to help rebuild the Hurricane Katrina-devastated Lower Ninth Ward neighborhood. Though the initial goal was to build 150 houses in the project's first two years, less than 35 homes have been built to date and homeowners have been less than pleased with the results.
Yet Pitt remains devoted to the cause of eco-conscious building practices. In 2008, he teamed with L.A.-based architecture firm Graft to announce the construction of "an 800-room luxury hotel and adjoining leisure complex" in Dubai. The yet unbuilt five-star property aims for LEED Gold certification. Pitt also narrated e² design, a PBS documentary about sustainable design around the world. The series, which ran three seasons, focused on innovations in the fields of green living, architecture, and transportation.
· Brad Pitt Extras: Life with Angelina, His Spirituality and More [Parade]
· House of Brad [W]
· From Troy to Hove - Brad Pitt's New Career [The Guardian]
· Brad Pitt Blows Off His Hero [Gawker]
· Brad Pitt Commissions Designs for New Orleans [NYT]
· Make It Right [official site]
· Point/Counterpoint: New Orleans on Brad Pitt's Make It Right [Curbed LA]
· Brad Pitt Turns Architect and Designs Dubai Hotel [The Telegraph]
· e² design [official site]
· Brad Pitt Moves on...To Transportation [Curbed LA]
· If The Lamp Shade Fits [official site]