Floating house debuts as answer to big floods

NEW ORLEANS — A house capable of floating atop rising floodwaters made its debut Tuesday in New Orleans alongside more than a dozen other homes built through actor Brad Pitt's Make It Right Foundation.

Called the Float House, the unique home aims to answer the challenge posed by the Big Easy's flood risk, starkly illustrated by the rising waters of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

"I wanted to float it down the Mississippi River to New Orleans," architect Thom Mayne said with a chuckle while in New Orleans for Tuesday's event. Instead, the home was shipped in pieces from Los Angeles, where it had been constructed on UCLA's campus.

The dwelling was designed by Morphosis Architects under the direction of Mayne, a professor at UCLA.

It is long and narrow like the traditional New Orleans shotgun house and sits on a raised 4-foot base. It also has a front porch. But the home is contemporary in design, with sharp angles and energy-efficient features like solar panels and a roof designed to capture and recycle water.

"You have to build a house for the environment, for the reoccurrence of hurricanes, but it can also be energy efficient," Mayne said.

No one lives there yet, but a family could buy the house and move in as early as next month, said Tom Darden, executive director of Make It Right. The group says it went through the local zoning and permitting channels before erecting the 1,000-square-foot, two-bedroom house on the site.

Residents must qualify through the foundation to be eligible for the floating house or other homes being built by Pitt's group. They must have lived in the Lower 9th Ward before Hurricane Katrina struck the area in August 2005.

In case of a flood, the base of the house acts as a raft, allowing the home to rise on guide posts up to 12 feet as water levels rise. In the Lower 9th Ward, which saw some of the worst flooding in the city during Katrina, floodwater reached as high as 12 feet.