Friday, September 01, 2006

Amphibian houses: An idea for New Orleans?

Metal pylons are seen, right, between the foundations of amphibian houses under construction in Maasbommel, Netherlands. (AP photo by Peter Dejong)

The Dutch have come up with a brilliant new idea for building homes on oft-flooded land that's below sea level: Amphibious homes.

In a new housing development at Maasbommmel, Netherlands, about a dozen homes are being built on solid ground, but are designed to float on flood water. According to the Associated Press, "each house is made of lightweight wood, and the concrete base is hollow, giving it ship-like buoyancy. With no foundations anchored in the earth, the structure rests on the ground and is fastened to 15-foot-long mooring posts with sliding rings, allowing it to float upward should the river flood. All the electrical cables, water and sewage flow through flexible pipes inside the mooring piles."

Sound like a great idea for New Orleans and other coastal/riverine communities that are occasionally threatened by storm surges, flooding and other forms of high water. Of course, such homes wouldn't tolerate hurricane-force winds any better than the next -- but most of the damage in New Orleans wasn't caused by Katrina's winds, rather by the resulting floods. Would we have witnessed the same disaster in the Big Easy if the city's homeowners and developers had taken innovative steps to protect homes against the long-expected and inevitable flooding?

Will it catch on in the United States? Oh, I'd guess you might see a few "eccentric" people trying it, but this just isn't the audacious, inventive country it once was. For example, scientists found several years ago that a certain common nail was exceptionally more resistant to hurricane wind forces when used by roofers. The "extra" cost of this new nail was inconsequential, so using it made all the sense in the world. Dade County, Fla., agreed and changed its building codes to require that this "magic nail" be used in all new roofing ... and as late as last year, building-code bosses in Texas hadn't ever heard of this nail and despite the wreckage caused by Hurricane Rita last year, they haven't required buildings/roofers in Gulf Coast counties to use it.

Like "magic nails," the idea of amphibious homes probably won't catch on. Sometimes, we'd rather keep repeating the same action over and over, expecting the result to be different (Mark Twain's definition of insanity.) Sometimes, we Americans just don't want to change our thinking in big ways, and that's too bad.


SingingSkies said...

ohh! ohh! Count me among the 'eccentrics'! I think that'd be a really neat solution to the storm surge problem. Not sure I'd want to be IN the house at the time, but if it would give me an intact home to come home to, it'd be worth it.

But, unfortunately, I think you're right about our reluctance to try new things.

One of my favorite sci-fi authors, Robert A. Heinlein, did a fairly good job of positing potential changes for society in the future; however, he missed big time on housing, even though he had some intriguing suggestions. We have never quite given up on the familiar to move into true innovation, especially when it comes to housing, or building in general for that matter.

Wonder what it would take to get our sense of adventure and wonder back?

Jill said...

Sounds interesting. Too bad the winds of change aren't strong enough to get the message across to people. We expect the government to take care of us, Fat chance.

Why are we so resistant to change?