Thom Mayne Floats An Idea for New Orleans
The base of the house acts as a raft during flooding, allowing the house to rise vertically and safely float up to 12 feet as waters rise.
Nicholas Tamarin -- Interior Design, 10/12/2009 12:00:00 AM
A house that morphs into a raft? Fittingly enough, that idea emerged from Morphosis Architects, which just completed such a structure for the Make it Right Foundation, the charitable organization Brad Pitt launched to rebuild New Orleans' Lower Ninth Ward following Hurricane Katrina
Thom Mayne, the Pritzker Prize-winning principal of Morphosis and professor at UCLA's Department of Architecture and Urban Design, enlisted his graduate students to help design and build the Float House, a new model for flood-safe, affordable, sustainable housing.
"The immense possibilities of the Make it Right initiative became immediately apparent to us: how to reoccupy the Lower 9th Ward given its precarious ecological condition?" says Mayne. "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."
The concept emerged from a study on New Orleans' history of flooding, and the ecology of the Mississippi Delta. In the event of flooding, the base of the house—reconceived as a chassis—acts as a raft, allowing the house to rise vertically on guide posts and safely float up to 12 feet as water levels rise. While occupants cannot remain in the Float House during a hurricane like Katrina, the structure is designed to minimize catastrophic damage and preserve the homeowner's investment.
Just like the traditional foundations that anchor the city's "shotgun" homes, the four-foot chassis helps preserve the Lower Ninth Ward's vital front-porch culture, thereby meeting Make It Right's mandate that all designs reflect New Orleans housing types. Plus, the configuration facilitates accessibility for elderly and disabled residents.
This prefabricated chassis, made from polystyrene foam coated in glass-fiber-reinforced concrete, also houses all equipment essential to power, water and fresh air supply. It was designed and built on the UCLA campus and then transported to New Orleans, where the modules were assembled onsite. General contractor Clark Construction Group donated construction services.
Not only is the Float House mass-producible and adaptable, but like all Make It Right homes, it's on track for LEED Platinum rating, Morphosis utilized high-performance systems, energy efficient appliances, and prefabrication methods to create a sustainable house that generates its own power, minimizes resource consumption and collects its own water.
While the Morphosis design is the first floating house to be permitted in the United States, the technology was developed and is already in use in the Netherlands, where architects and developers are actively working to address an increased demand for housing created by the rising sea levels associated with climate change.
"When Brad Pitt launched Make It Right, he promised the residents of the Lower 9th Ward that he would help them build back stronger, safer and better able to survive the next storm or flood," says foundation executive director, Tom Darden. "The Float House is helping us deliver on that promise. 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."