It's easy to be cynical when celebrities sell their name to plug products. You can almost smell the mountain of cash Brad Pitt is earning for promoting a certain numbered perfume. He's also in the news for lending his name to a line of high-design furniture, but this deal has an altogether better fragrance.
Don't get me wrong. While I enjoyed A River Runs Through It and Moneyball, I am no great fan of Brad Pitt. Somehow the good looks and star power get in the way of his craft. However, as the Hollywood A-lister prepares to launch a collection of furniture today designed in partnership with designer and craftsman, Frank Pollaro, it might be time to revisit this position.
When you dig deeper into the story, first revealed by Architectural Digest, it turns out Pitt is not doing this for the money. He is truly fascinated by design, a passion that started in university when he took an architecture course in the hope of an easy credit. The early response from the design industry has ranged from very positive to downright nasty.
Instead of mocking Pitt's work, the architect and design community needs to appreciate the opportunity to inspire a broader interest in great design. Consider the toughest audience out there: teenagers. They embrace great design, be it the latest iPhone or Beats By Dr. Dre headphones.
But great design isn't just about consumption. It may well play a leading role in saving the environment by doing more with less.
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Being a "Belieber" means so much more than just fawning over the teen heartthrob's sweeping hairdo -- it also means keeping up with the pop star's constant charity giving, from <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/18/justin-bieber-donates-cus_n_1018326.html" target="_hplink">auctioning off his bike</a> to <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/06/justin-bieber-scores-1000_n_949589.html" target="_hplink">playing in a basketball fundraiser game.</a> The pop star's most recent generous endeavor was launching a charity campaign along with his holiday album</a>. It benefited seven charities, including <a href="http://www.pencilsofpromise.org/" target="_hplink">Pencils of Promise</a> and <a href="http://www.cityofhope.org/Pages/default.aspx" target="_hplink">City of Hope.</a> "I know firsthand that if you believe in your dreams, everything is possible," <a href="http://www.justinbiebermusic.com/believecharity/" target="_hplink">Bieber said on his website.</a> Find a charity you "Beliebe" in <a href="http://www.justinbiebermusic.com/believecharity/" target="_hplink">here. </a>
For her outspoken support and advocacy for members of the LGBT community, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/20/lady-gaga-trevor-hero-award_n_1103896.html" target="_hplink">Lady Gaga was honored with the Trevor Hero Award</a> earlier this month. "Our young people are at the center of a health crisis, and vocal leaders like Lady Gaga...have stepped up to help change our culture," David McFarland, interim executive director and CEO of the Trevor Project, <a href="http://www.pressparty.com/pg/newsdesk/ladygaga/view/35896/" target="_hplink">said in a statement.</a> One of the many "You and I" singer's charity initiatives this year included <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/12/13/lady-gagas-nude-portrait-_n_1145661.html" target="_hplink">auctioning off nude photos and a naked portrait of herself on eBay to benefit her Born This Way Foundation. </a> Learn more about Gaga's charity, launching in 2012, <a href="http://bornthiswayfoundation.org/" target="_hplink">here. </a>
Determined to end the famine that took the lives of nearly 30,000 children in Africa, Bono, who is a HuffPost blogger, commissioned the help of big-name celebrities to produce <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bono/famine-africa-sudan-_b_992939.html" target="_hplink">The F Word: Famine is the Real Obscenity</a>, a short film that informs of the famine's devastating effects. Sign ONE's petition <a href="http://one.org/us/actnow/fword_splash.html" target="_hplink">here</a> to call on world leaders to help.
It wasn't enough for Scarlett Johansson to just a write a check for those suffering from hunger and drought in East Africa. The actress, an Oxfam ambassador, chronicled her experience through a<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/scarlett-johansson/food-crisis-in-east-africa_b_979003.html" target="_hplink"> series of exclusive HuffPost blogs</a>. She described the conditions, learned about long-term solutions and met with pastoralists and farmers who described a sense of hope amid heartache -- ultimately galvanizing others to get involved in the cause. To help Oxfam continue to save famine victims, donate <a href="https://secure.oxfamamerica.org/site/SPageNavigator/donate_East_Africa_Crisis.html?utm_source=Scarlett&utm_medium=Redirect" target="_hplink">here. </a>
Ten years after getting inspired to help refugees while filming "Tomb Raider" in Cambodia, Angelina Jolie is still fulfilling her mission to raise awareness for global humanitarian issues with the UNHCR. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/04/angelina-jolie-honored-fo_n_995369.html" target="_hplink">Jolie was honored for her decade of service</a> in October and was asked to take on the expanded role of "special envoy" to the nations that are struggling the most. Help give a voice to refugees by donating to UNHCR <a href="http://www.unhcr.org/pages/49c3646c368.html" target="_hplink">here. </a>
Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson made an about-face in 2011. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/curtis-50-cent-jackson/50-cent-street-king-hunger_b_1016830.html" target="_hplink">The HuffPost blogger, </a>motivated by his struggles growing up, launched a line of energy drinks that provides meals for families in Africa.<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/26/50-cent-discusses-new-boo_n_1033290.html" target="_hplink"> Jackson also wrote a book this year on bullying </a>-- acknowledging he was once part of the problem. Help 50 give back by visiting his site <a href="http://www.streetking.com/giving-back/ " target="_hplink">here</a>.
To teach kids how important it is to advocate for countries that don't have clean water, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/12/09/matt-damon-teaches-kids-a_n_1138760.html" target="_hplink">Matt Damon dressed up as Santa Claus for Christmas</a> and told the children perched on his lap how wishing for a Water.org bottle this season could hep bring potable drinking water to those in need. Support Water.org's holiday campaign <a href="http://water.org/gift/" target="_hplink">here. </a>
When the historic Congo election came with ballot stuffing, intimidation and a lack of support for women and illiterate voters, Ben Affleck headed out there in December to investigate what was happening on the ground. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ben-affleck/averting-disaster-in-the-congo_b_1135572.html" target="_hplink">This HuffPost blogger returned with a three-part series, co-written with Cindy McCain</a>, about the injustices people in the region face.
In true form, Ashton Kutcher mixed entertainment and information, aiming to reach a wide audience in April when The Demi and Ashton Foundation launched a huge campaign to spread awareness about sex slavery. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/04/11/ashton-kutcher-demi-moore-trafficking_n_847291.html" target="_hplink">The launch video for the campaign, featuring Arianna Huffington</a>, spurred conversation about the issue and brought to light the harsh facts surrounding trafficking. Take action to fight sex slavery by visiting the <a href="http://demiandashton.org/action-center" target="_hplink">DNAFoundation here. </a>
Ellen DeGeneres was named the Obama administration's new secret weapon this year in the fight against AIDS. DeGeneres was deemed the new special envoy to raise global awareness, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/08/degeneres-named-aids-envo_0_n_1082000.html" target="_hplink">the <em>Associated Press</em> reported</a>. Sec. of State Hilary Rodham Clinton cited DeGeneres' "sharp wit and big heart, and her impressive TV audience and 8 million followers on Twitter." The TV host also supports animal, poverty and breast cancer organizations, among dozens of other charities. Support DeGeneres and the work of the <a href="http://www.theglobalfund.org/en/donate/" target="_hplink">Global Fund here</a>.
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/03/slideshow_n_991609.html#s384087&title=Betsey_Johnson" target="_hplink">To help breast cancer sufferers facing the disease that she overcame</a>, Sheryl Crow helped found <a href="http://www.pinklotusbreastcenter.com/sheryl-crow-imaging-center/" target="_hplink">the Sheryl Crow Imaging Center</a> -- in conjunction with <a href="http://www.pinklotusbreastcenter.com/" target="_hplink">L.A.'s Pink Lotus Breast Center</a> -- which offers the latest advancements in digital screening and diagnostic imaging technologies. The only one of its kind in the country, the center provides free treatment to uninsured women. Want to help a patient in need? Donate <a href="http://www.pinklotuspetals.org/" target="_hplink">here.</a>
Following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and while much of Hollywood participated in telethon fundraisers and talk show appearances, Pitt took a different approach. He turned to his passion for design -- led by the architecture of Charles Renee Mackintosh and Frank Lloyd Wright -- and decided to do something practical. He helped launch Make it Right, a remarkable organization dedicated to creating well-designed, environmentally friendly and affordable housing. The lineage is direct. Both Mackintosh and Wright believed that every design detail mattered, both in function and in creating environments that communities care about.
Tour Chicago's Oak Park district and you see that not only stunning Wright homes are preserved and restored, but the entire neighbourhood is better as a result, with informed owners proudly maintaining their neighbourhood more than a century after the homes were built.
The magic of Make it Right, and similar organizations is the belief that good design is not just a luxury for the well off. It is in fact the means by which problems of aesthetic, environment, social need, sustainability and even happiness are solved. Spend time in the Granville Island district of Vancouver, or Notting Hill in London and look around.
Sure there are challenges of income disparity, NIMBYism and infrastructure needs, but beyond this there is a resident population that does more than live and work in the area; they live for the area. Lets hope this transformational community building will be brought to those who have lost homes as a result of the devastation from Hurricane Sandy.
Other countries have some lessons to offer us. Take Spain, where the average person's love of great design goes far beyond clothes and cool scooters. It's part of their identity. You can't go to Barcelona without feeling the legacy of one its most famous citizens, architect Antoni Gaudí.
For Italians, design is part of their national identity. From the world's most beautiful cars to a seemingly endless variety of pasta, form and function add passion to everyday life.
As Canada's biggest cities, especially Toronto, undergo a building boom not seen in our lifetime, we should ask if we are creating communities that we can be proud of.
It's not good enough to have a tower that is known for being the tallest or a suite for being the smallest or most expensive. Or even ones shaped like a Hollywood starlet. The world's great cities are made up of micro neighborhoods sustained by well-designed buildings, homes and public spaces. In this once in a generation time, Mackintosh, Wright and surprisingly Brad Pitt too remind us just how much designing the world around us matters.
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