Canadian firms design two out of three winning solutions in the AIA Designing Recovery Competition

The American Institute of Architects (AIA) has announced the three winners of its Designing Recovery competition, which was launched this year in collaboration with Architecture for Humanity, Dow Building Solutions, Make It Right, and the St. Bernard Project. The ideas competition solicited visions of sustainable homes capable of withstanding natural disasters specific to three regions: New York, New Orleans, and Joplin, Missouri. With recent meteorological events leaving swaths of destroyed houses in their wake within each of these areas – Superstorm Sandy, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and a series of tornadoes, respectively – the competition’s aim is to foster new strategies both for rebuilding sustainably in post-disaster relief situations, and for ensuring that new structures in these vulnerable areas can remain standing during future weather-related disasters.

Entries for both New York and New Orleans responded to storm surges with designs for houses raised off the ground. The winning design for New Orleans, Shotgun[Remix], designed by New York firm GOATstudio, features a finish floor elevated seven feet off the ground, with a stormwater runoff rain garden to mitigate the effects of excessive rainfall. From an aesthetic standpoint, jury chair Michael Willis, FAIA, of MWA Architects, was impressed that Shotgun[Remix] “did have that kind of flexibility to allow it to adapt into many neighbourhoods.”

Toronto-based Sustainable.TO Architecture + Building’s winning entry for New York, the Resilient House, anticipates storm surges with a flood-proof foundation, while structural insulated panel (SIP) assembly reduces on-site construction time in post-disaster rebuilding efforts. The jury responded to the Resilient House’s use of daylighting and contemporary design ideas that were “about the right scale in the neighbourhood context,” Willis says. “But it also figured out a way that is recoverable and [repairable],” while per-dwelling material costs would be under $50,000.

While the first two regions addressed in the competition dealt with high potentials for flooding, the third, Joplin, Missouri – situated in the area known as Tornado Alley – encouraged entries that would respond to the devastating aftermath of these sudden, unpredictable cyclones. Although many homes in Joplin already include subterranean bunkers within which to weather the storms, Toronto-based Q4 Architects proposed the Core House, in which an inhabitable safe core would be built into a shell containing secondary rooms and spaces; that shell is designed to soften the look of the stronghold within. All of the essential functions of a house, including sleeping quarters, kitchen, and sanitation facilities with a filtration system, are included in the core, so that this resilient portion of the home would still be livable in the event of devastation to the perimeter spaces. “You could look at this and see how people could live here until services were replaced – that’s one of the convincing things about it,” Willis says. “[The Core House] clearly showed ways of using that core to accommodate many different housing styles and options.”

Although the jury selected only one winning design per region, the AIA says in a release that “all of the entries that are feasible to construct will go into production in the corresponding communities.” Through the competition, the AIA hopes to offer contemporary models of resilient houses as a way of giving back to the communities most in need of thoughtful, adaptive design solutions.

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