NOVEMBER 2009

FLOAT house completed: Hopes to mitigate flood damage

Morphosis Architects, under the direction of architect and UCLA professor Thom Mayne, has completed the first floating house permitted in the United States for the Make It Right Foundation in New Orleans. The FLOAT House is a new model for flood-safe, affordable and sustainable housing that is designed to float securely with rising water levels.

In the event of flooding, the base of the house acts as a raft and allows the house to rise vertically on guide posts – up to twelve feet – as water levels rise.

Mayne led a team from Morphosis Architects and graduate students from UCLA Architecture and Urban Design in this innovative housing project to help with the rebuilding of the Lower Ninth Ward post-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.

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 twelve feet as water levels rise. While not designed for occupants to remain in the home during a hurricane, this innovative structure aims to minimize catastrophic damage and preserve the homeowner’s investment in their property. This approach also allows for the early return of occupants in the aftermath of a hurricane or flood.

The home hosts all of the essential equipment to supply power, water and fresh air.

Designed in response to Ninth Ward residents’ specific needs, the FLOAT House serves 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 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, minimizes resource consumption and collects its own water.

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 facilitating accessibility for elderly and disabled residents. This 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, Thom Mayne said, “The immense possibilities of the Make It Right initiative became immediately apparent to us: how 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.”

The FLOAT House sits on a raised four-foot base, preserving the community’s vital front porch culture.

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 chassis was designed and built by Morphosis Architects and UCLA graduate students on the UCLA campus. In July 2009 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, Inc.

Mayne’s Morphosis was among thirteen 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 re-imagine traditional New Orleans housing types, such as the “shotgun” house, to provide affordable, sustainable and high design quality housing.