Flood Plane House

17_Practice_Flood Plane House


Project Type: Single Family Weekend House

Location: Oneonta, New York

Phase: Unbuilt, CDs completed

Year: 2003

Related Works: Young European Architects

The Flood Plane House house is a proposal for a low budget weekend house in the Catskill region of upstate New York. The house is sited on a 20 acre property in the middle of a valley previously used as a pasture with views of hills and large expanses of open land.

The house was designed in response to a client’s need for a comfortable small house that would meet local building codes and be suitable for an environment that periodically is subject to minor flooding and historically (every fifty years) is subject to major flooding. The proposal was developed with two alternatives for foundation: pontoons and piers. Pier-based foundation simply raises the house above the flood plane. The pontoon foundation floats the house when the water rises. They are filled with water which acts like a ballast to hold the foundation in place should strong winds occur. The ballast water is automatically released should the water level rise. The house is anchored with just enough slack so that there is only minor change in location or orientation.

Water frontage for either economic, life-style or aesthetic reasons is the most desirable place to live throughout the world. Homes are being built in environmentally vulnerable regions. In addition to protecting the house from flooding this design has only a minimal impact on its environment, since no excavation is necessary. The basic typology of the house with its floating foundation can be mass-produced very economically with a price less than a conventional foundation. It is easily customizable or capable of being mass-produced. It addresses the problem of building in marginal flood prone areas, along stream sides, ocean shorelines, or areas subject to monsoons. It is engineered in such a way that it will withstand the lateral force of minor tidal surges. In more affluent parts of the world it should eliminate the necessity for flood insurance. The sewage and water lines are flexible with enough slack so that they can rise or lower with the water and be connected to either private or municipal systems.  The materials used are inexpensive, with standard size windows and doors, off the shelf metal framing with metal siding and metal roofing. The large roof is ideal for solar panels to generate heat and electricity. With the addition of a generator the house can be completely self-sufficient.

Project Principal & Designer: Dana Cupkova © DCm-STUDIO, LLC | Technical Consultant: Martin Meyers | General Contractor: Spencer Crowell


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The house is site specific: within a condensed footprint the house is oriented and shaped to emphasize the mountain views and sounds of a gushing trout stream that flows through the width of the property. Each façade acts as a filter between the inside programmatic area and outside orientation towards different scenery, providing openness, privacy or surveillance through the specific windows’ locations.


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The large deck is invisible from the road and only an entry door and smaller windows with no roof articulation can be seen by passersby. It is shaped to receive more consistent shading from the volume of the house in the summer, but minimize it in the winter. The building has a small footprint hugging the stream, but inside it creates a high cathedral style ceiling to accommodate a sleeping loft and to maximize the roof pitch to accept the heavy and snow load characteristic of the region.

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