LIFT House

STUDENT Prithula Prosun, University of Waterloo

The LIFT House (Low-Income Floodproof Technology) pilot project was designed and constructed in Dhaka, Bangladesh as a solution for sustainable housing for low-income communities in flood-prone areas. It is an approach to housing that provides all the basic services to its residents without connection to the city service systems, through the use of indigenous materials and local skills.

Millions are displaced and many lives are lost during severe floods due to the overflowing of rivers, inadequate drainage and monsoon rains in Bangladesh. Floods cause the most damage to the low-income population who live in informal settlements throughout the urban centres of the country. As the city’s population continues to grow, access to adequate housing is denied to low-income citizens, forcing 3.5 million people–representing 37.4% of the region of Dhaka–to find shelter in slums. More than ever, concerns for global warming have brought the issues of flood mitigation to the forefront for low-lying areas around the world, where improvements in flood protection are mandatory in order to mitigate future catastrophes. 

The LIFT House provides low-cost flood-resilient housing that is amphibious, functioning both in land and in water. The two amphibious units of the LIFT House float upwards with rising water levels due to floods and return to ground level as the water recedes. Amphibious architecture is a cost-effective and safe alternative to permanent static elevation and is achieved by the design of buoyant foundations.

Instead of relying on the struggling service systems of the city, the LIFT House is self-sustaining in providing basic services without relying on city infrastructure by using passive resources such as solar power, natural ventilation, rainwater harvesting, and composting toilets.

Buoyancy is achieved by two different methods that allow the house to float with rising water levels: a hollow ferro-cement foundation for one house and a bamboo-frame foundation filled with used plastic water bottles collected from a local hotel for the other. Both foundations perform similarly by floating when surrounded by water. The service spine of the house is a static structure, constructed out of brick and concrete that provides the vertical guidance and stability for the two amphibious bamboo units when floating. The rainwater-harvesting system is located in the service spine where water is collected and filtered during the rainy season and further recycled through filtration to be used throughout the year. Electricity is derived from two 60W solar panels for lighting and fans. The shared composting toilet allows the residents to create compost from human waste that can be sold or applied to the vegetable garden after 10 years of use. Urine is directed to the garden as a source of nutrients through an underground pipe system. 

 The pilot project was tested successfully by simulating a flood to make the amphibious units float during the inauguration in January 2010. The LIFT House represents Bangladesh; an embodiment of what is important to the country, its people, its environment, its economy, and its water.

WF This project is a reminder of to all of us in the profession of our collective responsibilities to the vast majority of humanity that we typically do not serve. Kudos to the group of faculty and students that took the time to actually build a working prototype of a building that would be of practical use in many flood-prone areas of the world. Not great and glorious capital “A” architecture, but a replicable, indigenous architecture in the service of humanity.

DN A very powerful idea in addressing the constant threat of flooding in urban environments located in unregulated flood zones. I like the idea of building the lifting and floating capacity into a house during the construction process, contemplating devastating emergencies that may or may not arrive, providing a level of security and safety to homeowners and their families. The fact that Thailand recently experienced its worst flooding–with a land mass equivalent to the area of France under water–made the LIFT House a very real and urgent proposition that should be further explored and researched.

PS With this project, I am encouraged by the presence of mind that brings research, technology, ethics, practice and academics together to succeed in pulling architecture into action. The LIFT House is not by any stretch high architecture. It does, however, challenge Canadian architects to examine our place of privilege in the world. Although prosaic, LIFT asks us to consider architecture as a mechanism that negotiates the pending shifts in the ecologies of our future, and I suspect this question will remain with us permanently.