Floods, in particular, have become particularly damaging. In New Jersey, one resident estimated that flooding from the blizzard that hit the Eastern Seaboard on January 23 caused between $30,000 and $50,000 worth of damage, according to the New York Times. In fact, Cape May County saw higher tides than during Hurricane Sandy. Could designing buildings to better accommodate the odd flood help?
After experiencing five floods over the course of 15 years, two residents of Wrasbury, a town 18 miles west of London, looked to an architectural solution to combat water damage. The couple enlisted the London firm BAT Studio to design a greenhouse that can rise two feet taller than normal—safely out of harm’s way—thanks to four hydraulic legs. Permanent stilts could achieve the same level of safety, but then your house would be left with a gap between the floor and ground or have some odd proportions. The benefits of hydraulic stilts are largely aesthetic: your house looks the same and only transforms when it needs to. Having your house 15 feet off the ground—like FEMA recommended for some Louisiana residents—is somewhat bizarre.
The structure isn’t built for full-time living, rather, as a place to store “crucial” items should a flood occur. (This also means that the architects did not have to contend with the plumbing, gas, and electrical infrastructure of a house, which is often routed through the ground.)
“One key objective for the project was to achieve a building with the smallest step up into it as possible,” architect Jonty Craig says. “This was both practical for the ease of quickly loading heavy items into the building but also for aesthetic reasons.”
What the architects attempted to demonstrate is that a hydraulic system could be successfully deployed in a building without compromising the overall design (read: look really ugly or obtrusive). In the past a hydraulic foundation was considered for the Farnsworth House, Mies van der Rohe’s iconic design located in an Illinois flood plain. At a projected cost of $3 million for the Farnsworth House, the system doesn’t come cheap and might not be cost-effective to deploy en masse, but it’s a compelling strategy to contemplate at a time when the biggest solutions to climate change are slipping away.