Building for natural calamities
Natural calamities like earthquakes, floods, tornadoes, tsunamis cause a lot of life and property damage. In many parts of the world, including some in India, which are prone to natural disasters, designers are coming up with ideas and technology to fight situations which are just likely to get worse and worse, because of climate change and global warming. Therefore, building for Natural calamities, in order to prevent damage to life and property is a growing challenge. One example of architecture meant to combat flooding and which is built especially to protect one from flooding and easily rehabilitate them after the calamity is the ‘Float House’.
The Float House designed by Morphosis Architects in Tennessee, New Orleans is an effort to tackle the rising flood threats in New Orleans. A novel design in sustainability, this house fully supports it’s own water and power needs. Setting an example for low-cost housing, ‘The Float House’ is a completely pre-fabricated module, capable of being mass manufactured with complete assembly parts. However, it does not take away from the vernacular housing style and architectural identity of New Orleans, as it takes inspiration from the typical ‘Shotgun’ Houses in the city. The ingenuity of this house doesn’t only lie in it’s aesthetics and self sustainability though. Concealed in the raised base of this ‘Shotgun’ style house, is a mechanical post system which elevates the house in case of flooding.
Situated near the Gulf of Mexico, with the mighty Mississippi river running across the city, New Orleans is one of the high risk zones of flooding because of rising sea levels. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina inflicted about $70 Billion US Dollars worth property damage and claimed up to 1500 lives in this Louisiana city. Inefficient drainage systems and failure of flood walls to prevent loss, was one of the biggest engineering disaster in the United States history, causing about 80% of the city to flood, with some parts covered by 4.6 m of water. This is just one of the examples of wreckage caused by floods in New Orleans. As an effort to curb loss, the government installed pumps to drain out excessive water when the floodgates are closed in case of natural calamities. However, the high annual rain still causes the city to flood often resulting in damage to property, trees and precious lives.
An after effect of Global climate change would be rising sea levels and resulting hurricanes and floods, which pose a threat to over 200 million people worldwide. With the possibility of low cost manufacturing, this design prototype offers a method to avoid property and life loss. In case of flooding, this house can be raised vertically up to 12 feet on sturdy guide posts, elevating the residents from the dangers of flood. The House’s chassis i.e. it’s internal framework acts as a raft, supported by steel rods which are fixed to the ground each with 14 m deep pile foundation. This novel design, though doesn’t claim to resolve Climate Change, takes into account the after effects and attempts to react to it.
Instead of permanently raising the house on stilts, the architects decided to set it on a 4-foot base, so that it maintains the configuration of a traditional front porch but rises in case of severe flooding. This allows for accessibility for the elderly and disabled residents. Designed to minimize the damage inflicted by floods, it still doesn’t allow residents to remain in the house during a hurricane, however it allows for fast return to normalcy after a catastrophe. As insurance doesn’t cover loss by flooding, this assembled house protects itself from million dollar losses. The prefabricated module design of the internal framework is a single unit of polystyrene foam, coated in glass fiber reinforced concrete. It has inbuilt wall anchors and electrical, mechanical and plumbing features can be shipped whole from manufacturer to site.
Manufacturing off-site the main ingredients of the build, and coupling it with on-site construction of columns that anchor the house on site and the concrete pads they rest on, it couples modern mass production with regional expertise to build a foolproof design. The wall panels, fenestration, interior finishes and roof needs to be assembled on site as do the fixtures and appliances which facilitates the users to personalize their houses. This efficient method reduces construction costs, time, waste as well as helps in maintaining quality and efficiency of the structure. Light weight panels and ease of construction facilitates ease of transport, a key feature to make a module acceptable worldwide to other flood prone zones.
Dealing with flooding is one thing, however returning to normalcy encompasses being able to carry on with daily life as soon as possible. The build’s capability of self sustaining it’s power, air and water needs helps residents to do just that. Boasting of multiple features in self sustainability, this house draws all it’s power from solar panels supported on the roof, making it one of the net-zero annual energy consumption systems. With a high performance system, that stores and converts solar power for daily use, it uses the same stored energy in the cold months.
Using the fresh rainwater, was also one of the important factors which drove the design of the sloped concave roof, which directs rainwater to reservoirs concealed in the lower framework where it’s filtered and stored for daily use. As the module is designed as low cost housing these features contribute to overall lowering cost of living for home owners as well as reduces their carbon footprint drastically. Low-flow plumbing pipes, low-energy appliances, high performance windows and insulated walls and roof reduce water and energy consumption making residents self-reliant on self generated power. Moreover, a ground source mechanical heat pump naturally conditions the air which cuts energy needed to cool or heat the house.
After the multi million dollar government projects to bring the city up to standard to deal with the 100-year projected flood situation in New Orleans, to safeguard the population and property, this attempt by the ‘Make it Right Foundation’ in collaboration with Morphosis Architects is credible. Integrating self reliance in the general public by means of affordable and responsible housing while also tackling the looming flood threats is a move to make the World realize, the inevitable is coming.
Author: Jamila Sidhpurwala
Jamila is one part artist, two parts foodie, and all parts traveler. She is a patron of good art and design and loves to immerse herself in books and music. Simplicity and minimalism is her motto as an architect. A writing enthusiast, she surrounds herself with all things creative. She actively shuns all “ists” and “isms” and firmly believes in a “no – label” world! She isn’t afraid to take risks, speak her mind, push forward and challenge preconceptions. She is currently pursuing Masters in Architecture at the University of Liechtenstein.