Tidewater Current





Original Content & Curated News Featuring Sustainable Endeavors in Coastal Virginia & beyond.

AIA - National Resilience Initiative

Designing a Coastal Future in the Face of Sea Level Rise

Posted 1 November 2016 by Carol Brighton

Though it may be small, the Hampton University Architecture Department shows big promise in the resiliency arena.  According to Associate Professor, Mason Andrews, HU is now offering a certification in Sea Level Rise Adaptation with courses starting in January 2017.  She also notes that HU was recently selected as “one of six architecture schools to head regional efforts” for the AIA Foundation’s National Resilience Initiative. Even more impressive is the $120 million HUD award made to the Commonwealth, largely earmarked for a design strategy hatched by HU architecture students collaborating with Mujde Erten-Unal 's civil & environmental engineering counterparts from Old Dominion University.  Andrews has another ambitious plan in mind: Amphibious Architecture.

Collaborative Rewards

The ultimate reward when architects and engineers design a project is to see the fruition of that effort. Twice now, HU and ODU students and faculty have had the pleasure of sharing that experience through alliance. Andrews indicates that the two university departments first forged a relationship when they joined forces for the 2011 Solar Decathlon. As Team Tidewater, they won a competitive bid to participate in the event and then built and exhibited a solar powered home, Unit 6 Unplugged, at the national competition. In 2014, with Wetlands Watch funding from Virginia Sea Grant, the schools reunited with a new mission. The objective was to ready a historic neighborhood for a catastrophic storm. This time the group accomplished even more than they bargained for.

Mason Andrews discusses Chesterfield Heights flooding issues and solutions for NorfolkTV

floARKfloARK stormwater retention veggie boxes at the Norfolk Botanical Garden were designed by Willie Parks, a graduate of the HU Architecture program. Modeled after designs developed for Chesterfield Heights, Parks is marketing the custom boxes to help alleviate flooding in low lying communities.

The team set its sights on century old Chesterfield Heights. The Norfolk neighborhood was already experiencing chronic flooding issues. After numerous site visits and engaging with the community, the students focused on low-cost natural solutions and developed a plan that residents welcomed. Green infrastructure was a major component. A living shoreline and an inventive system of cisterns, some of which also support streetside vegetation were proposed. Check out the plans here.

Navigating new territory in community adaptation to sea level rise, the group was invited to present their work at a Norfolk Dutch Dialogues forum. The design charrette was held to explore adaptation strategies to sea level rise with flood proofing experts from as far away as the title suggests, the Netherlands. Once known for their ingenuity in holding back the sea, the Dutch have embraced a new mindset of living with water instead of fighting it. That attitude is also being affirmed in the region as cities like Norfolk aim to “thrive with water.”  With this paradigm in mind, planners ultimately chose to include many elements the students proposed in a HUD National Disaster Resilience Competition application. Coordinated through ODU, that submission won a remarkable $120 million grant.

Coastal Community Design Collaborative & The National Resilience Initiative

While the student contribution to the Chesterfield neighborhood resiliency renovation is complete, the schools will continue their collaboration offering cross-disciplinary courses for architecture and civil engineering students. The Coastal Community Design Collaborative will allow for students at either school to earn the certification for Sea Level Rise Adaptation.  In addition, Andrews indicated that professionals can also earn the certification and she’s hoping to have the courses endorsed for continuing education credits.  The HU Architecture department is also now part of an American Institute of Architects nationwide network of resiliency centers. As the National Resilience Institute’s design studio for the Mid Atlantic, faculty and students will have a platform to share pioneering strategies that help sustain communities facing common climate related challenges.

HU_satellite_receiverThe white dome atop the Hampton Harbour Center houses a NASA funded $5 million direct broadcast antenna.

Hampton Roads Adaptation Forum

Hampton University also participates in region wide climate planning events through the Hampton Roads Adaptation Forum. The Virginia Sea Grant funded group organizes quarterly gatherings that provide a great opportunity to keep tabs on what is going on resilience-wise in the region. Events highlight the latest science and technology developments regarding sea level rise/climate issues and solutions while supporting opportunities for networking and collaboration. The most recent meeting was hosted by Hampton University in September.  Speakers covered a gamut of innovations including:

  • A new satellite direct broadcast receiving station that is part of a nationwide network sited at Hampton University providing access to remotely sensed data;
  • Systems to monitor and forecast flooding that can inform emergency services and the public in real time through web portals and apps;
  • Rainwater retention and stormwater drain backflow prevention devices; and
  • Amphibious architecture.

Retrofitting Structures to Float During Floods

Amphibious structures are of real interest to Mason Andrews, as they should be to many in a region fraught with frequent inundation episodes.  The technology offers a way to preserve the historic and/or community character of a home without the aesthetic and disruptive effects of the most prominent retrofit option: elevation. Elizabeth English who presented on the topic at the HU held adaptation forum is an expert in the field, working on amphibious design since 2005.  A Louisiana resident, her interest in the topic was born out of a seminal event:  Hurricane Katrina. She founded the Buoyant Foundation Project in 2006 and has since focused on the topic.  During her presentation, she stressed that, “amphibious foundations retain a home’s connection to the ground by resting on the earth most to the time.” A buoyant foundation installed under the home allows the structure to rise with water while guides, pier like structures, hold the home in place horizontally. This is not untested technology. Amphibious communities exist in the Netherlands.  There’s a reason we don’t see more of these homes around though. While the amphibious retrofit is technologically and financially feasible for relatively small structures, there are many roadblocks; zoning, building and federal flood insurance criteria to name a few. Watch the embedded webinar to learn more.


With the potential to provide an acceptable solution to chronic inundation issues in the region, Andrews has another collaborative effort in mind.  Remember that 2011 Solar Decathlon home built by ODU and HU.  With funding, she’d like to jump into the murky regulatory waters and retrofit the structure, so it floats in a flood.  If you think this is a great plan and have ideas for funding, please share them.

For more info on floating construction, check out this Tidewater Current post and this youtube on the Massbommell amphibious community in the Netherlands.

More Related Tidwater Current Posts:

Climate Protection Proliferation

The Climate Cure - Building Carbon Stores

Nature At Work: Building Ecological Infrastructure

Place Making, Habitat Preservation & Sustainable Design on the Lynnhaven

With the Support of Pharrell, Climate Action is a Hot Topic this Winter

Virginia Participates in Pioneering Planning Partnerships




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