I am not sure what it was that really bugged me when I learned of Brad Pitt’s increasing involvement in the architectural community. For some reason I was irked that he has become the face of a major redevelopment competition for the non-profit organization Make it Right. Perhaps it was because I still blamed him for dumping America’s sweetheart, Jennifer Aniston, or maybe it was for the 2 plus hours of my life he wasted when I sat through Legends of the Fall, or maybe because he has absolutely no training in design and more people listen to him than me. It likely it is the latter, and because someone like Mr. Pitt gets to use his money and influence to determine the new face of New Orleans.
It shouldn’t bother me. After all, he plunked down 5 million of his own money into the project (a good 20% of his 2007 revenue, I am told). As far back as the 1990’s I was told that Mr. Pitt liked to travel around Europe with a sketch book. This was of course was relayed to me by a young woman who really wanted to meet Mr. Pitt sketching in a piazza while we were in Rome for a semester. Later I learned that he had Frank Gehry redesign his wine cellar (titanium casks anyone?), and subsequent to that, he worked in Gehry’s office for some sort of weird, celebrity internship.
But then I started to think hard about the client-architect relationship. What would have become of Filippo Brunelleschi had he not had the Medici Family? Michelangelo had Pope Julius II. Schinkel had Adolf Hitler. Julia Morgan had William Randolph Horst. Wright had Edgar Kaufmann and Solomon Guggenheim. Gehry had the Guggenheim Foundation and Mickey Mouse. With very few exceptions (perhaps Philip Johnson is one) architects can not realize their treatise on their own dime. The early work of an architect usually only provides a glimpse into the deeper and more complex thoughts to be more prevalent later in their career. Think of the modest renovations in Oak Park for Wright or the Santa Monica Place shopping Mall for Gehry.
For whatever reason, I did not have a twinge of disdain for the above mentioned patrons of the arts (with the noticeable exception of Hitler, of course) and I am unsure of why that is. It may be my perception of the celebrities in general. Rarely do I think of celebrities, especially those in recent times, as being all that well educated, which may be unfair. While the media often picks up on the ridiculous quotes and theories of celebrities, I did discover that Mr. Pitt did start college and studied journalism, but did not graduate. The reason for his failure to complete his studies, I do not know. I do know for a fact though that the above mentioned patrons of the arts were all very opinionated and most certainly shaped the design of their commissions which meant compromises to the ideals and ideas of their architects. The designs we are left with would have been significantly different in some cases were it not for the influence of their patrons.
I guess I need to cut Mr. Pitt some slack. He is trying to do a good thing. More people should take an interest in the built environment, so why not him? I guess celebrities can be useful too, I mean, it’s not like one could ever be President of the United States or anything.