And in case you’re in need of a quick geography refresher, the city of Palo Alto nestled in the northern end of California’s Santa Clara Valley, isn’t exactly in giant tidal wave country (or maybe it is?). However, the slough-heavy city is indeed part of the nine-county monster known as the Bay Area with the San Francisco Bay sitting to the east and the Santa Cruz Mountains to the west and, beyond that, the Pacific Ocean. Basically, Palo Alto isn’t Honolulu — but it isn’t Spokane either.
And Robinson is well aware of this. He declares on the Tsunamiball website: “Yes, I am building what I call a tsunami-proof capsule in my back yard, and I live in Palo Alto, California, but no, I don’t think there is a real threat of tsunami here. I am building it here because I live here.”
And although he began work on his 22-foot-long wooden lifeboat knowing that a cataclysmic event like the one that ravaged coastal northeastern Japan is extremely unlikely to ever impact his own home, the events of March 2011 did hit close to home for Robinson in another way: He previously lived in Japan for a spell and met his wife, coincidentally, in Fukushima in the early 1990s. “Half the places we went on dates are gone,” he tells Wired.
Loosely inspired by both oil rig escape pods and dangling arboreal retreats designed by British Columbian artist Tom Chudleigh that meld traditional tree house design with sailboat technology, Tsunamiball is something to behold. It’s a beautiful and thoughtful work of craftsmanship conceived and created by someone with no boat-building experience and zero nautical know-how. Rather, Robinson is just a California dad with an emotional connection to a natural disaster that occurred thousands of miles away, a relentless drive to create and the desire to tackle what he calls a “big challenge.” And patience. Lots of patience.
Robinson is the latest profile subject over at faircompanies where he gives Kirsten Dirksen a detailed look at his still-under construction labor of love. While it hasn’t been tested in the open water — or a swimming pool — yet, Robinson is getting some good use out of the porthole-studded watercraft while it remains cradled on dry land: as a hammock-ready backyard camping spot with his two sons. Once completed and outfitted with solar panels, Robinson plans to use the land-bound vessel as a guest cottage and potentially an Airbnb property.
Perhaps there will be room for an artificial pond to go along with it.
The creation of Tsunamiball has been a joyously slow-moving one filled with experimentation and plenty of trial and error. "... I know very little about whatever I'm doing," says Robinson of the "dumbtacular" process. "So, it's one step at a time. I only design enough to know what I'm going to do for the next four or five weeks and by the time I'm done with that I think I'm smarter than when I started. So then the next step, I get to plan again."
And Robinson is quick to point out that he is very much not a prepper. He explains: “I don't have food, I don't have water, I don't have backpacks, I don't have guns. This is not a desperate attempt to save my family from the dreaded Palo Alto tsunamis that happen ever year. But I do think it's a serious problem and I haven't seen a lot that's being done about it and so I just thought: what a great design challenge to just think it through. And the best way I know how to think it through is to just build it."
Do set aside the time to watch the above video and also to check out Robinson's frequently updated project website where he touches down on such topics such as five-point harnesses and hull layering. Aside from serving as a tantalizing example of woodworking porn, it's inspiring stuff all around for anyone who has set out to create something monumental with their own two hands. "That's the important thing: making stuff and feeling empowered to make a difference and make a change."
Related on MNN:
- Ecology-studying artist lives aboard gently bobbing egg-shaped pod
- Attractive Puget Sound home doubles as tsunami-resilient fortress
- Levitating homes: The future of earthquake-resilient housing in Japan?