In New Orleans, Home Floats To Withstand Floods

The floating house i i

The floating house in New Orleans, designed by Thom Mayne's firm, Morphosis. Courtesy of Morphosis hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy of Morphosis
The floating house

The floating house in New Orleans, designed by Thom Mayne's firm, Morphosis.

Courtesy of Morphosis

The Make It Right Foundation will unveil a house Tuesday in New Orleans' Lower Ninth Ward, which was largely wiped away by floodwaters after Hurricane Katrina. The house is different from others in the neighborhood that were rebuilt after the hurricane: It floats.

The house is the brainchild of Morphosis Architects and its founder, Thom Mayne, winner of the prestigious Pritzker Architecture Prize.

"We rethought the idea of a house in terms of the potential conditions of the flooding that took place in Katrina," Mayne tells Melissa Block.

He says the designers gave the building a chassis, made it out of polystyrene foam and covered it with glass-reinforced concrete.

"What does that do? It produces a raft; it floats," Mayne says. "And it's thought about as a seat belt. I mean, hopefully it never gets used. But when it gets used, it's important."

The house is anchored to the ground by two vertical guideposts. At times of flooding, the house moves up the guideposts — up to 12 feet — to prevent it from drifting.

Although there has been no opportunity to test the house in real flood conditions, Mayne says, he worked with structural engineers to develop the prototype.

"We did extensive computer simulations, and we modeled this house for hurricane flooding conditions" similar to Katrina and its aftermath, he says.

Mayne says that when he built the house for the Make It Right Foundation, he wanted a structure that both blended in and could handle severe floodwaters.

"It was a really interesting problem," he says. "How do you keep a sense of community and the continuity of the neighborhood, and at the same time deal with this very extreme condition of the flooding?"

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