Richard JinmanFriday May 27, 2005The Guardian
Sea, sand, skyscrapers... Brad Pitt with Frank Gehry (photograph: Howard Pasamanick/AP), and the design for the Hove seafront
As an actor, Brad Pitt tried to breach the walls of Troy. In real life, the Hollywood star wants to reshape Hove as a member of the design team behind one of Britain's most daring architectural projects.
Pitt, the 41-year-old star of movies such as Fight Club, Ocean's Eleven and Troy, is designing a restaurant and a penthouse as part of architect Frank Gehry's controversial £250m redevelopment of the Hove seafront. The actor is not a qualified designer; he studied journalism at the University of Missouri before embarking on a film career. But in interviews he has often talked about his passion for architecture and the work of leading practitioners such as Gehry and Rem Koolhaas.
Pitt and 76-year old Gehry met in 2001 and have become close friends. The actor has even taken time out from the movies to study computer-aided design during an "informal apprenticeship" at the Canadian-born architect's Los Angeles offices.
In an interview with Vanity Fair last year Pitt said: "I'm really into architecture, structure and design. Give me anything and I'll design it. I'm a bit nutty with it." Pitt added: "I've got a few men I respect very much and one would be Frank Gehry. He said to me, 'If you know where it's going, it's not worth doing.' That's become like a mantra for me. That's the life of the artist."
Pitt is expected to travel to Hove in August, when the planning application for Gehry's project is submitted, or later this year when it is considered by the city council. There are even rumours the actor may buy the luxury duplex penthouse he is helping to design.
Josh Arghiros, joint managing director of Karis Holdings, the company that is developing the King Alfred site, said: "Brad is looking for a place to live in Britain and it may well be that he'll take one of the flats in Brighton. I haven't got a clue what style he'll go for. I understand from Frank that Brad's design aspirations coincide with Frank's aspirations for the project. I understand he has really good taste."
Mr Arghiros conceded Pitt's involvement had generated some welcome publicity for the project, but denied it was the equivalent of a celebrity endorsement.
"We've known about this for two years - it has only just come out because Frank has talked about it," he said. "We could have exploited it if we were being cynical about it. But he [Pitt] is genuinely excited about the project - it has captured his imagination. Everyone wants to be part of it because it's so bloody brilliant."
A spokesman for Brighton and Hove city council said it would welcome the Hollywood star if he did buy one of the penthouses and took up residence in the East Sussex city. He would be in good company - Hove's celebrity residents include Paul McCartney and DJ Fatboy Slim.
Gehry's iconoclastic designs include the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao and Maggie's Centre, a cancer daycare centre, in Dundee. But his bold plans for the King Alfred site - a 1930s sports centre on Hove's seafront - have outraged some residents since his company was chosen to redevelop it in 2003.
Gehry's initial design was centred on four 120-metre towers that are supposed to resemble crumpled Victorian dresses. The development also includes a £26m sports centre and more than 700 flats.
The height of the towers was reduced after protests from residents and only two are now proposed. But their radical sculptural design, described by one critic as "transvestites caught in a gale", remains unchanged.
The council spokesman said it was hopeful Pitt's involvement might broaden interest in the King Alfred redevelopment.
"Many people know about Frank Gehry as an architect and many more will know about Brad Pitt the actor," he said. "So it will bring the project and our ambitions to a wider audience."
Pitt made his public debut as a designer in March last year when he appeared with Gehry at a Los Angeles architectural forum. He was introduced as part of Gehry's "dream team", a consortium that was preparing an £800m plan to transform part of downtown LA. Pitt is believed to be advising Gehry on cinema, sports hall and restaurant designs.
Pitt's new role may be part of a wider trend among Hollywood actors who used to turn to the stage or rock'n'roll as an antidote to Tinsletown's superficiality. Earlier this week Star Wars actor Hayden Christensen revealed he was considering giving up acting for architecture.
"I don't find Hollywood interesting, so I'm thinking about studying architecture instead," Christensen said. "A film is a product and as an actor you can only sell it if you sell yourself."
Stars with style
BornShawnee, Oklahoma, US
Career highlightsJohnny Suede, Fight Club, Ocean's 11
Career lowlights Seven Years in Tibet, Meet Joe Black
Why he matters 'He combines the matinee idol looks of Gary Cooper with the sex symbol loveliness of Marilyn Monroe'
Born Toronto, Canada
Career highlights Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao; Walt Disney concert hall, Los Angeles
Career lowlightsExperience Music Project, Seattle
Why he matters'One of the most prominent contemporary American architects with his open, curvilinear, diverse and sometimes playful west coast style'.