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The Week in Sustainable Design (10/09/05)

It's been upsetting to witness the recent coastal devastation for many reasons, not least of which is the proof positive that global warming has hastened an onslaught of extreme weather patterns. In addition to fostering stronger hurricanes and typhoons, the warming of the planet is melting the polar icecaps, which will cause sea levels to rise significantly in the near future, potentially flooding low-lying coastal areas like Bangladesh, the Maldives, parts of Holland, and even parts of the eastern seaboard of the U.S. (yes, that includes New York, Boston, and Washington D.C, folks)

So how do we prepare for a potential future water world? How do we find a sense of security without living in fear of disaster? Some forward thinking (and perhaps pessimistic) architects have been designing structures with global warming in mind. From houses that resist flooding by standing high above ground, to those that take a passive approach by starting out in water, here are three residential designs whose greatest feature is foresight.


Architects in the low-lying Netherlands are particularly concerned over future flood potential, and response to this problem, architect Koen Olthuis has created some astoundingly beautiful water dwellings. What differentiates these from standard houseboats is "a patented technique whereby the foundation of the construction can be transformed into a float. A foam core is encased in concrete, with steel cables securing it against the pull of potential currents."


A company based in Hawai'i has taken a traditional building style that traces its roots back to indigenous Polynesian, Japanese and African cultures, and applied 21st century principles to create sustainable prefab dwellings that hold up to earthquakes, hurricanes and high water. Tim Cornell began building his Pole Houses in 1988 and now offers five basic plans as well as customized plans for buyers with specific needs. Pole Houses use large diameter wood poles to create a skeleton frame that bears the entire load of the home, making both interior and exterior walls moveable without disrupting the structural integrity (making it semi-modular).


One interesting finding of the recent spate of hurricanes in the gulf coast region is that a particular type of building structure seems to hold up extremely well to the ravages of hurricane wind and water where other buildings fail miserably. The reinforced concrete dome - or "Monolithic Dome as one company has branded it - has shown time and time again that it is up to the task of surviving hurricanes. After hurricane Katrina blew through Biloxi, Mississippi, the New Life Family Church, a concrete dome building, was the second tallest structure in the city left standing. Similarly, a couple in Pensacola, Florida own and rent a "Dome of a Home" Monolithic Dome beach house, which has been through three major hurricanes - Dennis, Ivan and Katrina, and survived all intact. Concrete dome technology is definitely something which should be considered as reconstruction begins on the devastated regions of the gulf coast.

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Beautiful designs!

The dome is particularly intriguing. Monolithic has a less expensive version, the Ecoshell, which is being built in India; here's a short Architecture Week article explaining the dome-building process.

Disaster resistant, energy efficient, elegant, and relatively inexpensive...where's the catch?

Posted by: Hassan Masum on 11 Oct 05

I am interested in reviewing the, no doubt growing, body of evidence which supports your assertion that we have "proof positive that global warming has hastened an onslaught of extreme weather patterns." Any links would be great.

I fear that there may be real evidence out there, which I'm trying to find, not seeing the light of day because of the history of our environmental "chicken little" warning system.

Thanks in advance.

Posted by: TJ on 11 Oct 05

TJ -

Some places to begin:

National Center for Atmospheric Research

Pew Center on Global Climate Change

National Ocean and Atmospheric Adminisation (NOAA gov't)

Global Warming site of the Environmental Protection Agency

Posted by: Sarah on 11 Oct 05

The biggest problem with dome homes and many other types of sutainable housing is the resell value and resellablity of the homes tend to be horrendous.

Frankly I think the future of homes on the coast is steel. A home that LOOKS conventional but is made of steel covered in wood/stucco where after even a 250 mph hurricane all you have to do is restucco the house.

Posted by: wintermane on 11 Oct 05

What about Dante Bini and his ideas about domes? Here is a slide show that presents his work.

Posted by: Henry T. Hill on 12 Oct 05

I agree that we should try to be prepared to meet the possible changes in the world. As for hurricanes ans other diasters, that should be much cheaper to invent new kinds of buildings or maybe some defensive sea-walls than all the recontraction...

Posted by: Tina, designer on 24 Oct 05



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