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New Orleans homes could FLOAT above future floods

FLOAT HouseOne architect has a vision for how New Orleans could sustain another catastrophic levee failure in the post-Katrina era: build houses that are designed to float upward securely as water levels rise.

In fact, construction of the first so-called FLOAT House was recently completed in the city’s Lower Ninth Ward, an area devastated by flooding after the levees failed following Hurricane Katrina’s landfall in 2005.

Designed by Morphosis Architects, under the direction of architect and UCLA professor Thom Mayne, the structure is the first floating house permitted in the US for Brad Pitt’s Make It Right Foundation in New Orleans. It’s intended to become a new model for flood-safe, affordable and sustainable housing.

“When Brad Pitt launched Make It Right, he promised the residents of the Lower Ninth Ward that he would help them build back stronger, safer and better able to survive the next storm or flood,” said Tom Darden, Executive Director of the Make It Right Foundation. “The FLOAT House is helping us deliver on that promise. For the first time, this house brings technology to Americans that was created to help save homes and speed recovery from flooding. It’s an approach and design that could and should be replicated all over the world now threatened with increased flooding caused by climate change.”

In a flood, the base of the FLOAT House — essentially a chassis — acts as a raft, allowing the house to rise vertically on guide posts, securely floating up to 12 feet as water levels rise. While not designed for occupants to remain in the home during a hurricane, the innovative structure aims to minimise catastrophic damage and preserve the homeowner’s property investment. This approach also allows for the early return of occupants in the aftermath of a hurricane or flood.

Like the traditional New Orleans “shotgun” house, the FLOAT House sits on a raised four-foot base, preserving the community’s vital front-porch culture and while also providing accessibility for elderly and disabled residents. Its prefabricated “chassis” is made from polystyrene foam coated in glass fibre reinforced concrete, which hosts all of the essential equipment to supply power, water and fresh air. The chassis is engineered to support a range of home configurations.

The FLOAT House was designed as a scalable prototype that can be mass-produced and adapted to the needs of communities worldwide facing similar challenges. On track for a LEED Platinum Rating, the state-of-the-art home uses high-performance systems, energy-efficient appliances, and prefabrication methods to produce an affordable, sustainable house that generates its own power, minimises resource consumption and collects its own water.

Architect Mayne designed the house along with a team from Morphosis Architects and graduate students from UCLA Architecture and Urban Design. Their concept emerged from a study of the flooding record, social and cultural history of the city, and the ecology of the Mississippi Delta.

“The immense possibilities of the Make It Right initiative became immediately apparent to us: how to re-occupy the Lower Ninth Ward given its precarious ecological condition?” Mayne said. “The reality of rising water levels presents a serious threat for coastal cities around the world. These environmental implications require radical solutions. In response, we developed a highly performative, 1,000-square-foot house that is technically innovative in terms of its safety factor — its ability to float — as well as its sustainability, mass production and method of assembly.”

While the Morphosis floating house is the first to be permitted in the US, the technology was developed and is in use in the Netherlands, where architects and developers are working to address an increased demand for housing in the face of rising sea levels associated with climate change.

The chassis was designed and built by Morphosis Architects and UCLA graduate students on the UCLA campus. This past July, the chassis was transported to New Orleans where prefabricated modules designed by the group were assembled on-site. Construction services were donated by general contractor Clark Construction Group.

Mayne’s firm, Morphosis, was among 13 local, national and international architects selected to participate in the first stage of the Make It Right project . The architecture firms were called upon to reimagine traditional New Orleans housing types, such as the “shotgun” house, to provide affordable, sustainable, and high design quality housing. The FLOAT House was designed to support Make It Right’s mission to catalyse redevelopment of the Lower Ninth Ward by providing a displaced family with a flood-safe home, while preserving the community’s culture.

New Orleans homes could FLOAT above future floods – The Global View

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