Morphosis builds 'floating' house for Brad Pitt's Make It Right New Orleans foundation

Thom Mayne, with his firm Morphosis Architects, and UCLA graduate students complete first permitted floating home in the United States
August 11, 2010


In the event of flooding, the base of the house acts as a raft, allowing the house to rise vertically on guide posts, securely floating up to twelve feet as water levels rise.            
         
        
Morphosis Architects, under the direction of renowned architect and UCLA distinguished Professor Thom Mayne, has completed the first floating house permitted in the United States for Brad Pitt’s 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.



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. Morphosis and UCLA’s collaboration on the research, development, design, and construction of the FLOAT House is exemplary of their shared goals to engage students in real-world design for social impact.

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. 
           

            


“When Brad Pitt launched Make It Right, he promised the residents of the Lower 9th Ward that he would help them build back stronger, safer and better able to survive the next storm or flood.  The FLOAT House is helping us deliver on that promise.  For the first time, this house brings technology to Americans that was created to help save homes and speed recovery from flooding. It’s an approach and design that could and should be replicated all over the world now threatened with increased flooding caused by climate change,” says Tom Darden, Executive Director of the Make It Right Foundation.

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 says, “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.”

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.

UCLA Architecture and Urban Design chair, Hitoshi Abe, states “Our students were thrilled to have the opportunity that this unique project afforded to apply their research and design to a real world problem - building affordable, sustainable housing for communities afflicted by flooding. Our success demonstrates that the value of applied research can change the working methodologies of students and faculty who strive to develop and evaluate solutions with a positive impact on their context. The close collaboration between student, faculty and outside experts generates a unique studio environment characterized by outstanding creativity and energy.”

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 reimagine traditional New Orleans housing types, such as the “shotgun” house, to provide affordable, sustainable, and high design quality housing. The FLOAT House will support Make It Right's mission to catalyze redevelopment of the Lower Ninth Ward by providing a displaced family with a flood-safe home, while preserving the community’s culture.

About Make It Right
Make It Right was launched by actor Brad Pitt in December, 2007 to help residents of the Lower 9th Ward rebuild their lives and community in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. The initial goal of the Foundation is to build at least 150 affordable, green and storm-resistant homes for families who lived in the Lower 9th Ward when the hurricane hit.  All of the Make It Right homes have been certified LEED platinum, the highest designation for energy efficiency and sustainability awarded by the US Green Building Council.  This makes the Make It Right project the “largest, greenest neighborhood of single family homes” in America according to the USGBC.  Make It Right will have 50 homes by December, 2009 and 150 homes by December, 2010.

About Morphosis
Morphosis is a collective practice committed to rigorous design and research that yields innovative buildings and urban environments. With projects worldwide, the firm’s work encompasses a wide range of project types and scales including residential, institutional, cultural and civic buildings as well as large urban planning projects. Morphosis has received 25 Progressive Architecture awards, over 90 American Institute of Architects (AIA) awards and numerous other honors. In collaboration with academic institutions worldwide, the studio has conducted extensive research on contemporary urban issues and has produced a series of publications including LA Now, Volumes One through Four.  Morphosis has also been the subject of o   over 20 monographs, including a 2003 monograph from Phaidon, and 5 volumes published by Rizzoli International that span the complete works of the firm.

About UCLA Architecture and Urban Design
UCLA Architecture and Urban Design in the School of the Arts and Architecture is a leading player on the international stage of contemporary architecture. Working with world-class faculty from established Pritzker Prize winners to the upstarts of tomorrow, our students integrate the most creative approaches to design, advanced developments in technology, and rigorous approaches to architectural thought available today. Using Los Angeles, one of the world¹s greatest 21st century cities as model, laboratory and provocation, innovative programs give students the means and the vision to enter contemporary design culture as architects, urbanist thinkers and critics.

About Clark Construction
Since its founding in 1906, Clark Construction Group has developed a reputation as one of the nation’s most experienced and respected general contractors. With annual revenue in excess of $4 billion, Clark is consistently ranked among the country’s largest construction companies. Regional offices are strategically located to serve the diverse needs of public and private clients throughout the United States with the headquarters in Bethesda, MD.  Community service is an integral part of Clark’s culture. Through monetary gifts, inkind donations, volunteer support, and probono work, Clark gives back to the communities in which it lives and works. Clark’s efforts with relief for Hurricane Katrina extend back to 2005, when Clark helped repair the medical clinic and library in Bayou La Batre, LA.

         
 

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