We can no longer afford to have our head in the sand when it comes to flooding
The recent floods have led to a surge in work for architects who can design good flood-resilient buildings, says Hattie Hartman
In December, the Thames Barrier was raised to protect London from the largest tide recorded at Southend on Sea since 1982, when the barrier was inaugurated. During a nine-day period this January, the Thames Barrier was raised five times, an event which occurred only four times throughout the 1980s. Designing for flood resiliency is an increasingly essential part of an architect’s repertoire.
The AJ reported last week that AL_A’s EDP Cultural Centre in Lisbon, due to complete in 2015, features a 7,000m² park overlooking the river Tagus. Steps which descend into the Tagus are designed to flood at high tide. This is just the type of design resiliency we need more of. In the Netherlands, a country with a long history of living with water, 39 projects which integrate flood prevention with landscape design are underway as part of the Room for the River programme, also due to complete next year.
Closer to home, Defra’s recently funded AquaBox, a flood-resilient demonstration building designed by Baca Architects, will go on site later this year at BRE Innovation Park in Watford. Surrounded by a perimeter tank which can be flooded, AquaBox will showcase a variety of flood-resiliency products and technologies, including water-resistant ‘nano’ coatings, automatic floor guards and a fully floodable kitchen.
Baca Architects’ Amphibious House in Marlow, due to complete in June, will set a new standard of what is possible in this country. Baca’s Richard Coutts reports a recent surge of phone calls – many driven by rising insurance premiums – from potential clients interested in retrofitting their homes for flood resiliency or considering an amphibious new build. Upcoming changes in the insurance sector will introduce new levies on homes in areas prone to flooding.
Baca will catalogue many approaches to flood-resilient design in Aquitecture, an RIBA Publishing book due out in the autumn. More important than specifying the latest high-tech flood technologies is siting the building correctly and using the landscape to mitigate surface water run-off. Top priority is the consultation of the Environment Agency’s (EA) free online flood maps as soon as a site is selected. Just typing in the site’s postcode will immediately tell you whether there is any moderate or high risk of flooding.
A common-sense approach of locating the building on the highest point on the site will go a long way to keeping it dry. Coutts explains, ‘Unless flood risk is properly addressed, the EA will stop the scheme no matter how beautiful it looks. Since mitigating for flood risk has a critical impact on what can be delivered on a site and on managing a client’s expectations, it is essential that it be high on the list of the multitude of considerations that every architect must address – otherwise it will come back to haunt you!’
We can no longer afford to have our head in the sand when it comes to flooding, or we may end up with our feet – and our buildings – under water.