How Brad Pitt 'Fell in Love' – with New Orleans

03/20/2012 at 03:00 PM EDT

Brad Pitt in New Orleans
Brad Pitt and Ellen DeGeneres
Michael Rozman/Warner Bros.

Brad Pitt

Brad Pitt

Perhaps Brad Pitt's good cause began about a decade before Hurricane Katrina swept through New Orleans in August 2005, flooding 80 percent of the city and killing more than 1,500 people.

Long before Pitt himself surveyed the devastation in 2007 and, frustrated with the progress in the Lower 9th Ward – hit the hardest by the hurricane – founded the Make It Right foundation to rebuild the community, he already had a special place in his heart for the city.

"It was a bit of a blur because New Orleans will do that to you," Pitt, 48, talking about a trip he made to the Big Easy in the early '90s, says on Tuesday's The Ellen DeGeneres Show. "I fell in love with the place. The people. The music. It's in the air."

He also tells DeGeneres: "It's something you can't describe on camera."

Pitt's do-good persona may have rubbed off on his children's career aspirations – or so he hopes, he says.

A little architecture in the brood?

"I think I got one … I'm pushing them that way," says Pitt, who has six kids – Maddox, 10, Pax, 8, Zahara, 7, Shiloh, 5, Knox, 3, and Vivienne, 3 – with Angelina Jolie. "When you see them drawing crayon houses, 'That's a beautiful house, honey.' "

All kidding aside, Pitt is humble, even hesitant, about accepting praise for the progress of his foundation.

"It took the families determined to come back and their resilience and their defining what this thing was going to be," he says. "I get far too much credit for bring some really smart people together."

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