The last I heard of Brad Pitt, he was building a tricked-out hamster habitat with a £50,000 price tag for his kids. Now, the actor/humanitarian/USGBC darling/architecture aficionado has unveiled FLOAT House, a new addition to the village of sustainable, storm-safe homes being built by his Make It Right foundation in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans.
Despite choruses of praise — not to mention being called “the largest and greenest single family community in the world” by U.S. Green Building Council honcho Rick Fedrizzi at the Clinton Global Initiative — Make It Right has been thrown flak; accused of being an ill-conceived celebrity vanity project. Personally, I don’t care whose face or money is behind projects like these. Make It Right is getting people curious about green building (Pitt’s matinee star mug certainly helps) while rebuilding NOLA’s Hurricane Katrina-ravaged Lower Ninth Ward … both positives in my book.
Regardless of whether or not Pitt is actually making it wrong, FLOAT House is a fascinating piece of innovative green architecture. Of course, the home wasn’t actually designed by Pitt but by Thom Mayne’s Morphosis Architects and seven UCLA graduate students; the construction was performed by Clark Construction Group. Aside from the ability to float in floodwaters, which I’ll get to in a minute, the 945-square prefabricated home is net-zero energy and is aiming for LEED Platinum certification. It also stays true to the architectural heritage of the neighborhood and is built in shotgun style.
Here’s where things get interesting: typical of shotgun houses — but unlike other elevated, stair-heavy Make It Right homes — FLOAT House is built on a low-laying base, or chassis. A chassis supporting a common shotgun house is rarely more than a few feet high, and, in turn, cannot provide adequate protection against heavy floodwaters.
This isn’t the case with FLOAT House, however. The structure’s special, 46,000 pound prefab chassis, built with polystyrene foam coated in glass fiber reinforced concrete, is designed to float upwards up to 12 feet as floodwaters rise. The home never actually drifts away but is anchored by vertical guideposts. Think of the FLOAT house as an oversized, stationary life raft.
FLOAT House is also self-sustaining with a battery back-up system, solar paneling, and rainwater harvesting system so that in emergency “float” scenarios, a family can survive for up to three days after being detached from electricity, plumbing, and other utilities. That said, ideally the home will not have to float but in case it needs to, it can.
Says Thom Mayne of FLOAT House:
The immense possibilities of the Make It Right initiative became immediately apparent to us: How to reoccupy the Lower Ninth 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.
Brilliant, if I might say so. I'm interested to see if future Make It Right homes ditch stilts and stairs and opt for similar technology.
Images: Morphosis Architects