Networx

Posted by Katie Marks | G+ | Jan 28, 2014

Engineering for Tsunamis

Let the wind blow

Beautiful Camano Island is a lovely place to live...or visit. Photo: Todd Nappen/FlickrAs a utilitarian, my love for modern design reaches new heights when it manages to be aesthetically compelling and practical, creating a happy marriage of form and function. All too often, design looks pretty but isn't as useful -- or is highly useful, but isn't all that attractive. In my constant quest for architecture and design that meet my high standards, I appreciate it when something catches my eye, as is the case with a striking home in Washington State.

Built on Camano Island, the home is situated right in the middle of a tsunami hazard zone on low-lying ground that will also be vulnerable to storm surges, and as recent climate events have shown, we don't know what lies ahead in the next few years, but it's probably not good. Thus, the architecture firm wanted to balance the risks of tsunamis with the desire to have a beautiful, open, welcoming custom home that would endure for its owners. These two things don't usually go together, as tidal waves are notorious for chewing through houses, especially those on low ground that are close to the water.

But this home has a few tricks up its sleeve. For starters, it has an extremely stout concrete foundation, one that can weather both earthquakes and tsunamis better than conventional homes. The two-level design features breakaway walls and elements that allow the energy of a tsunami to quickly dissipate, while leaving the upper walls in good condition. This design is actually quite similar to that utilized in some traditional Japanese homes, which were historically engineered to allow nonstructural walls to harmlessly fall during earthquakes without damaging the rest of the structure. While the home might need some attention from a Seattle remodeling company after a major event, it won't be leveled. The lower-level multipurpose area, the "flood room," is well below the living space, which is nine feet above grade.

Meanwhile, an array of glorious windows and doors provide lots of natural light to keep the home light-filled and airy, and a stout storm drain maintains excellent drainage across the property. By combining smart design features with extremely durable materials that don't require a great deal of maintenance, the architecture firm, Designs Northwest Architects, created a home that could stand up to harsh weather and wouldn't require constant work.

It's not just the exterior of the home and the underpinnings of the design that are great. The Camano Island House is also great inside, with lots of eco-friendly details including highly flexible open spaces and a warm, inviting interior. This home manages to sit right on the shoreline without being subject to the considerable peril its neighbors experience with every tsunami warning, and it does so with panache.

This kind of smart building for the future is taking hold in numerous communities around the world. Architecture firms and homeowners are recognizing that they need to consider climate issues in home design, including shifts in weather patterns that may be brought on by a changing climate. While tsunamis aren't subject to human-mediated climate change, rises in sea levels and changes in the severity of regular winter storms are, and thinking ahead to help structures weather these events is smart design and smart living.

It can also be expensive; custom homes are pricey, especially ones with the square footage and elegance of this one. However, as test cases, they prove that taking the time to build durably is worth it, and this provides an incentive to lower costs for people in the housing market who can't afford the expense of lavish custom homes.

Katie Marks writes for Networx.com.

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