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‘Floating House’ Debuts in New Orleans

Thursday, October 8, 2009

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Morphosis Architects floating house

Morphosis Architects, under the direction of renowned architect and UCLA distinguished Professor Thom Mayne, has completed the first floating house permitted in the United States, built for actor Brad Pitt’s Make It Right Foundation in New Orleans.

The FLOAT House is described as a new model for flood-safe, affordable, and sustainable housing that is made to float securely with rising water levels.

Mayne led a team from Morphosis Architects and graduate students from UCLA Architecture and Urban Design in the innovative housing project, aimed at assisting with the rebuilding of the Lower Ninth Ward in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. The concept emerged from a study of the flooding record, social and cultural history of the city, and the ecology of the Mississippi Delta. Morphosis and UCLA’s collaboration on the research, development, design, and construction of the house is cited as an example of their shared goals to engage students in real-world design for social impact, according to a statement on the project issued by representatives of the firm. Construction services were donated by general contractor Clark Construction Group Inc.

Morphosis Architects floating house

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, securely floating up to 12 feet as water levels rise. While not designed for occupants to remain in the home during a hurricane, the functional design is intended to minimize catastrophic damage and preserve the homeowner’s investment in his or her property. This approach also allows for the early return of occupants in the aftermath of a hurricane or flood.

Make It Right was launched by actor Brad Pitt in 2007 to help residents of the Lower 9th Ward rebuild their lives and community in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. The initial goal of the foundation is to build at least 150 affordable, green, and storm-resistant homes for families who lived in the Lower 9th Ward when the hurricane hit.  All of the Make It Right homes have been certified LEED platinum, the highest designation for energy efficiency and sustainability awarded by the U.S. Green Building Council.

The USGBC is calling the Make it Right project the “largest, greenest neighborhood of single-family homes” in the nation. The foundation is seeking to complete 50 homes by December and 150 homes by December, 2010.

Designed in response to Ninth Ward residents’ specific needs, the FLOAT House is described as a scalable prototype that can be mass-produced and adapted to the needs of communities world-wide facing similar challenges. On track for a LEED Platinum Rating, the home employs high-performance systems, energy-efficient appliances, and prefabrication methods to produce an affordable, sustainable house that generates its own power, minimizes resource consumption, and collects its own water.

Like the traditional New Orleans “shotgun” house, the house sits on a raised four-foot base, preserving the community’s front-porch culture and facilitating accessibility for elderly and disabled residents. The high-performance “chassis” is a prefabricated module, made from polystyrene foam coated in glass fiber-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.

Of his involvement with the project, Mayne said the Make it Right project offered the potential to show a way to re-occupy the Lower 9th Ward given its precarious ecological condition.”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 United States, 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 project was supported by donations of Morphosis Architects, Clark Construction Group Inc., UCLA Architecture and Urban Design, and UCLA School of the Arts and Architecture.


Tagged categories: Green building; Sustainability; U.S. Green Building Council

Comment from Susan Fusilier, (10/9/2009, 9:42 AM)

This is far from a new concept. Almost all "camps" in southern Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Texas are similarly tied to piles and float up and down with the rising or falling waters. However this will not mitigate any wind issues at all. This design is intended for gentle rising and falling of water, not the sudden inrush of storm surge or wave action from a catastrophic event. After Katrina, especially east of the Mississippi River and Lake Pontchartrain, camps were blown off their pilings and never seen again. Buildings were smashed to tinder and floated away inland with the leading edge of the surge, or out to sea when the surge rushed out again. This design also does nothing to mitigate the storm damage which actually rips pilings out of the ground and wipes the entire landscape bare of structures, trees or anything else living for miles. Good idea, but old idea. Good idea for gentle rising and falling water like from a backwater flood, NOT a hurricane event. Once again, California architects don't have a clue about the damage wrought here or how it happens. Try looking at Pass Christian, Waveland, Bay Saint Louis or Pascagoula...

Comment from Tom, (10/12/2009, 9:02 AM)

How exactly does a 4-foot staircase and NO ramp "facilitate access for the elderly and disabled"?

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