Monday, October 12, 2009

Lesson: Design Fail Floathouse

Good design starts with good diagnosis and solving problems at the appropriate level. Recently the 'Float House' designed by UCLA students taught by Thomas Mayne of Morphosis has been getting a lot of attention from the media. The basic premise is that it's a sustainable eco-friendly house that can float in case of a flood. It's built in New Orleans lower 9th ward which was devastated by Hurricane Katrina. Apparently this is in conjunction with Brad Pitts efforts and advocacy organization Make It Right to promote sustainable affordable housing for lower 9th ward residents.

I admire the effort, aesthetics, and good intention of the design; however anyone who lost a yacht or houseboat in Katrina can tell you that simple buoyancy doesn't make a house able to survive that sort of natural disaster. Plenty of boats are totaled in hurricanes, and they're certainly better designed to handle high winds, waves, and overturning than a boxy yet buoyant house.

So is this good design or just good sounding intentions? Beware sweet sounding design speak and sleek imagery. Ultimately the lower 9th wards problem is one of geography and urban planning. The lesson here is that good design solves problems on the appropriate level. In Michigan we simply don't build below the 100 year floodplain level. It's a regional solution to a regional problem enforced by zoning and DEQ policy. Solve urban planning issues on the level of urban planning, architectural problems at the level of architecture, and interior design problems at the level of interior design. Anything else is a band-aid over a bullet wound which won't solve, but merely hide the real problem.