In honor of World Habitat Day, designated as October 5, 2009, we wanted to help remind the world of its collective responsibility for the future of the human habitat. World Habitat Day this year is celebrated under the theme Planning Our Urban Future to raise awareness of the need to improve urban settlements to deal with new major challenges of the 21st century. One of the most powerful forces is climate change. Warming events are triggering harsh natural disasters, like Hurricane Katrina, which rendered large sections of New Orleans unrecognizable and claimed almost 2,000 lives. With nearly 200 million people worldwide living in high-risk coastal flooding zones and over 36 million people facing the threat of flooding in the U.S. alone, the future of coastal habitats needs to be revisited.
Brad Pitt’s Make It Right Foundation is working to rebuild New Orleans and has recently garnered a lot of positive press with the announcement that the USGBC has declared his foundation’s efforts in the troubled area to be the “largest and greenest single family community in the world.” One of the newest homes in this green community is called the FLOAT House, designed by Morphosis Architects. Built under the direction of Thom Mayne, with the help of UCLA graduate students, the FLOAT House is a prototype for prefab affordable housing and is adaptable to flood conditions. The house can sustain its own water and power needs, survive floodwaters generated by storms the size of Katrina and can be manufactured cheaply enough to function as low-income housing.
The FLOAT House isn’t just about function. The design also pays respect to New Orlean’s unique context and now, more importantly than ever, reflects the community’s vibrant culture. Similar to the shotgun style house, predominant throughout New Orleans and the Lower Ninth Ward, the FLOAT House sits atop a raised base and is configured to include a traditional front porch. The home’s design is able to support a variety of customizable house configurations.
To protect from flooding, the FLOAT House can rise vertically on guideposts, securely floating up to twelve feet above ground as water levels rise. The house’s chassis acts as a raft, guided by steel masts, which are anchored to the ground by two concrete pile caps. Though it is not designed for occupants to remain in the home during a hurricane, the FLOAT House aims to minimize catastrophic damage and preserve the homeowner’s investment in their property. This approach also allows occupants to return much sooner to their home after a disaster.
Not only can the FLOAT House withstand flooding, it is also a high performance house that generates and sustains its own water and power needs. On track for a LEED Platinum rating, the FLOAT House has some innovative components. The house includes solar power generation through rooftop solar panels that generate all the house’s power needs, resulting in net-zero annual energy consumption. The electrical systems store and convert solar power for daily use and can give power back to the grid during the temperate fall and spring months. The sloped, concave roof collects rainwater and funnels it into cisterns housed in the home’s chassis, where it is filtered and stored for daily use. Low-flow plumbing fixtures, low-energy appliances, high performance windows and highly insulated SIPs (structural insulated panels) ensure that the home operates very efficiently. A geothermal heating and cooling system heats and cools the air via a ground source heat pump, which naturally conditions the air, maximizing the energy required to cool the house in the harsh summer and heat the house in the winter months.
The FLOAT house costs about $150,000 and will save homeowner’s considerable costs over the long term given its energy and water-saving attributes.