Built on stilts: Karrie Jacobs on a strange new kind of house being built

palm harbor homes
© palm harbor homes

These things are totally bizarre, traditional McMansions jacked up in the air on stilts to get above the floodlines set after Katrina and Sandy. There used to be a real vernacular of houses built on stilts in the south, but they tended to be light and small. Now they are just ridiculous things. In Metropolis Magazine, Karrie Jacobs looks at the genre.

Ordinary suburban-style neocolonials and ranch houses are being jacked up on sturdy wooden or concrete piers ten or 20 feet in the air, the heights dictated by the Base Flood Elevation set by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and enforced by insurance companies. These houses fascinate me because most of them make few concessions to the fact that they’re not built at grade. They look as if someone has played a cruel joke on the owners, as if the family had gone out to dinner and come back to find their house out of reach.

She talks to a number of designers and planners about the issue, including the father of the New Urbanism, Andrés Duany:

“I think the problem is totally recalibrating the aesthetic,” Duany said, leading an emergency meeting. “It’s not taking antebellum houses and cranking them up. The aesthetic has more to do with lighthouses.” While others in the room pointed out the political and economic ramifications of the flood map—some towns might not be able to rebuild at all, poor people would be driven off the coast for good—Duany was nonchalant. “It will be like Tahiti,” he said. “Totally cool.”

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Tags: Green Building | MIssissippi