FLOAT House – New Orleans, Louisiana - Atlas Obscura

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An architectural experiment in the Lower Ninth Ward, this row house is capable of floating as high as the Katrina floodwaters. 


The Lower Ninth Ward neighborhood of New Orleans, especially north of Claiborne Avenue, experienced the most significant housing damage after the levee failure caused by Hurricane Katrina. It’s in that neighborhood that a first-of-its-kind house can be founda house designed to float 12 feet above its foundation, the same height as Katrina floodwaters.

More than a decade after Katrina, residents are still in the process of rebuilding what was lost. A struggle throughout the city is the need for low-cost housing, pitted up against the high cost of building a new home.

Actor Brad Pitt joined in on the rebuilding efforts two years after Hurricane Katrina with a project called “Make it Right.” The foundation worked with over 25 world-renowned architects like Frank Gehry, David Adjaye, and Shigeru Ban to build almost 100 houses in a few block radius.

One house as part of that effort, the FLOAT House, is a direct reaction to the Katrina flooding and the inevitability of more climate-change related disasters. In the event of rising waters, the base of the house is designed to act as a raft and stay afloat vertically thanks to the house’s steel guideposts. The house is the first platform-based floating house in the United States, built by Morphosis Architects and graduate students from UCLA, and is meant to serve as a model for future mass-produced affordable houses.

Since 2016, however, mortgage-carrying residents of “Make It Right” homes have complained that the designer homes have failed. The homes, according to lawsuits, didn’t take into account New Orleans’ humid, rainy climate and were made hastily with cheap materials, leading the houses to rot and decay under the homeowners’ very feet. While The FLOAT House is still standing, it’s unclear if it will survive the next storm that blows through.

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