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Local solution to a global flooding problem

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Water Institute member and architecture professor, Elizabeth English, is leading a team of Waterloo School of Architecture researchers who want to build a floating pavilion in a flood zone of the Grand River. This will be the first step in plans to design amphibious houses that rise and fall with flood waters to help protect First Nations and other vulnerable communities devastated by flooding every flood

Rendering of a New Orleans house with an amphibious retrofit.

With help from the National Research Council, English and her team hope Canada can become one of the first countries in the world to allow floating homes in our municipal building codes. Amphibious homes are still not embraced by insurers and disaster management agencies around the world. As an engineer and an architect, English has spent 11 years trying to change that.

In 2006, after watching the devastation from Hurricane Katrina while doing research at Louisiana State University, English became fixated on the idea of amphibious housing. She watched the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) try to relocate entire neighbourhoods, and wanted to do something to help.

“These poor people, who have been living here for generations, don’t deserve to be kicked off the land that is there home. They didn’t cause the flooding. The people who are the most needy, the most vulnerable are the ones who can benefit the most from this.”

The current solution to flooding problems is building homes on stilts or relocating communities altogether. Retrofitting homes to float is a cheap solution to chronic flooding problems, and one that doesn’t include disrupting entire neighbourhoods.

“Putting a house up on stilts, it's hugely inconvenient, it looks terrible, and it disrupts the community. That's what got me started after Hurricane Katrina. I saw what FEMA was doing, and I saw how people were resisting. I thought there had to be a better solution."

amphibious house

Amphibious housing in Maasbommel, Netherlands.

English and her team hope to have the Grand River pilot project ready to go in time for the International Conference on Amphibious Architecture happening in Waterloo June 25-28.  

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