Who’s snickering about Brad Pitt’s interest in architecture now? The movie star jolted attendees at the Clinton Global Initiative’s annual conference in late September by announcing a plan to replace 150 destroyed houses in New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward with new, environmentally sustainable ones that cost less than $200,000 each.

Seeking justice for city residents who lost their houses in what he termed an “abysmal” rescue effort, Pitt and his partners formed an organization called Make it Right to hire 13 architectural firms for green designs that fit the local vernacular. He promised that each model will match what residents want to see with what engineers need to provide to protect against climate change and future floods. “Our goal is to bring green technology to the affordable level and not have it look like a Prius,” Pitt said. When attendants laughed nervously, he added: “I own two of them, it’s all right.”

Graft, a Los Angeles architectural firm, collected prototype proposals and belongs to the design-review team. Louisiana-based Billes Architecture, Concordia, Eskew+Dumez+Ripple, and Trahan Architects all submitted designs, as did international offices including Adjaye/Associates, BNIM Architects, Constructs, KieranTimberlake Associates, Morphosis, MVRDV, Pugh + Scarpa Architects, and Shigeru Ban Architects.

The prototypes will meet guidelines developed by William McDonough, whose cradle-to-cradle model treats all architectural inputs as reusable. According to KieranTimberlake partner James Timberlake, each house must total less than 1,000 square feet and stand between five and eight feet above the ground to protect against floods.

Make it Right put residents’ priorities first in developing these designs. “Pitt’s people were consulting with homeowners on questions of style and livability, and all buildings will address the street,” observes Timberlake, who, like the other architects, worked on the project pro bono. “This is an attempt to rebuild a neighborhood in a way that copycat homes couldn’t.”

Pitt told the Clinton audience that he hopes to break ground on at least one house by the end of 2007. He and movie producer Steve Bing have pledged to match $10 million in sponsorships toward this goal.