The FLOAT House by Morphosis Architects

The FLOAT House by Morphosis Architects

No matter what you’re trying to do, it rarely hurts to have Brad Pitt on your team.

When Make It Right, a group founded by Pitt after he saw the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans’s Lower Ninth Ward, revealed its new FLOAT House last week, the announcement received a fair amount of media attention. Much of the reporting on the new design focused less on the house itself, however, and more on Make It Right’s charismatic founder (we admit it: our Twitter post mentioned him, too).

But without disrespect toward the man who helped fund its design, we’d like to redirect attention to the home itself, for it offers some intriguing features:

  • The first: Yes, the FLOAT House floats. Up to 12 feet above ground, in fact, on its 3’x15’x55’ chassis (the chassis is designed to support a variety of possible home configurations, which means you’re not stuck with the current design). While floating, the structure is guided by two cleverly incorporated vertical pilings that keep the home from drifting away. Minor rainstorms won’t float the house, since the chassis holds the home about four feet off the ground. This turns out to be a good thing: When the home lifts, it disconnects itself from utilities, including power and sewer.
  • Though not designed to be occupied during flood/storm events, the FLOAT House’s design aims to allow people to get people back in their homes as quickly as possible after a storm ends. For example, the home incorporates a battery back-up system designed to provide up to three days of power even if local utilities are unavailable. The home is built to be as efficient as possible, and the roof includes solar panels and collects rainwater. The designers, Morphosis Architects, report that the home is “on track” for a LEED Platinum Rating, minimizing its demands on utilities that are likely to be strained when a community is recovering from a major natural disaster.
  • The whole home is designed to be assembled on-site from prefabricated components, thereby guaranteeing construction quality, minimizing waste, and lowering costs (the complete home is projected to cost about $150,000, as it’s mass-producible). The chassis fits on a standard flatbed truck.

All that said, the most exciting thing about the FLOAT House might not be that it floats. Instead, it may be that it presents a new approach to the problem of how best to live in an area subject to natural disasters. Keeping people safe without having them feel like they’re living in a bomb shelter can be tricky. The FLOAT home offers a middle ground between two unappealing extremes: either living in a windowless elevated bunker that’s stout enough to protect its residents from hurricanes, or living in an at-grade structure in which every minor flood causes tens of thousands of dollars’ damage.

During an interview with National Public Radio, the FLOAT House’s architect stated the problem quite well: “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?”

Even if every home in a neighborhood were built on a FLOAT-type chassis, a Katrina-scale event would still cause major disruption. But if that disruption were greatly reduced, and allowed people to live in the sort of communities they want to live in, perhaps this is an avenue worthy of further exploration – with or without celebrity backing.

To read more about the FLOAT House, see Morphosis Architects’ Project page, watch an animation on its construction, or listen to a National Public Radio clip about the FLOAT House.

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