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Hurricanes Driving New Design Innovations

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In recent years we’ve seen an unmistakable uptick in erratic weather and more severe storms from coast to coast as the threat of global warming grows more difficult to ignore. As Hurricane Florence bears down on the East Coast, everyone is holding their breath to see what the extent of the damage will be when the enormous storm makes landfall. Mandatory evacuation orders have been issued for more than a million residents, and states of emergency have been declared from Maryland to Georgia.

Hurricanes bring devastating wind damage, storm surges and punishing rainfall, which leave entire communities under water with no way to perform repairs or even assess the damage until the flood waters recede. For some areas of the country at or near sea level, this poses an existential threat, with some grim estimates credibly predicting that cities like Miami could be nearly uninhabitable by the end of the century.

To combat the gradual submergence of coastal American cities, construction, engineering and architectural firms are being called upon to conceptualize and deliver structures capable of withstanding hurricanes like Florence that can save lives and prevent calamitous property damage.

Building houses designed to float instead of submerge isn’t such a crazy idea, in fact it’s gaining traction to the point where there’s now an annual conference.

There are no shortage of methods being deployed to make buildings more resilient to storm and flood damage. From use of stronger materials, structures built on stilts, buildings designed to divert strong winds and even semi-amphibious buildings, no stone in solving this problem is being left unturned.

A developer in the Florida Keys, an area particularly vulnerable to hurricane damage, is catering to well-heeled residents who don’t necessarily want to leave their Caribbean paradise behind because of an occasional hurricane. The developer recently completed work on a three-story luxury condominium building containing 27 units completely encased in concrete positioned 13 feet above the ground. Its windows are designed to withstand winds of up to 174 miles per hour, and its parking garage contains pumps that can pump out 20,000 gallons of water per hour, according to Fortune. The electricity needs for the pumping system were so great that its generator had to be housed in a building of its own.

Ontario, Canada-based architects have come up with structures that can float up and down in a flood while remaining tethered to the ground, examples of so-called “Amphibious Architecture.” Building houses designed to float instead of submerge isn’t such a crazy idea, in fact it’s gaining traction to the point where there’s now an annual conference entirely dedicated to Amphibious Architecture, the International Conference on Amphibious Architecture, Design and Engineering (ICAADE), which gathers annually to discuss the mitigation of flood damage using floating structures like these.

North Carolina-based home builder Deltec sells prefabricated homes whose round shape lets strong winds dissipate evenly around it rather than resist its force. According to The Verge, the company has built more than 5,000 units, which have a 100% survival rate across recent high-profile hurricanes including Katrina, Harvey, Irma and Maria.

Construction companies themselves should also have a preparedness plan in the event of a hurricane or other major weather event to ensure jobsites aren’t damaged or destroyed. If a storm is deemed likely to hit a site, supervisors should keep up to date on all emergency alerts and communicate updates to the team.

Jobsites should also be carefully locked down if a storm is coming, high winds can send tools or materials flying and cause severe injuries and damage.

Jobsites should also be carefully locked down if a storm is coming, high winds can send tools or materials flying and cause severe injuries and damage. As a general rule, the less loose material left unsecured on a site, the less ammunition the storm has. This means inspecting jobsites well in advance of a storm for potential hazards like dumpsters full of discarded scrap metal or unsecured piles of wood and dealing with them before the storm hits.

Right behind Hurricane Florence, several more emerging storms whose paths are yet unknown are lurking close by. As the frequency of storms is expected to increase with each passing hurricane season, it’s likely the demand for hurricane-resistant buildings will increase. And new building methods will have to be continually developed to keep pace as the environment continues to unleash its fury.

When planning construction projects, potential natural disasters are typically the last things on developers’ minds, as none want to think about the many types of catastrophes that can threaten a building project. Yet, risk management due diligence is an important component of the process.

So, how do you prepare properly?

Join Forester University for this free educational webinar (Sept. 19 11 am PDT/2 pm EDT) led by experts from Procore, Multivista, and AON as they discuss why, with serious investments on the line, having a disaster recovery plan in place is a must for all construction projects. Click here to register.

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