Last week, New York was rocked by both an earthquake and a hurricane—two exceptionally rare events for the city. Now if only our over-preparedness in the case of Hurricane Irene made up for the relative under-preparedness of other parts of world that are more prone to the forces of Mother Nature. Assuming that humans will continue to build in places they probably shouldn’t, Ted Givens, a design partner at 10 Design, has developed the notion of a tornado-proof suburb — clusters of sci-fi-looking houses that can respond to and withstand forceful wind gusts.
According to Givens, it’s time to stop downplaying the very real threat of natural disasters. "Isn’t The Wizard of Oz a clear example of the awesome force that a tornado can muster?" the Hong Kong–based architect writes. "How can Jaws drive people out of the ocean screaming when a house blown through the sky brings back nostalgic memories? Please stay out of the water, but feel free to building your home below flood level and out of cards in the wind." His answer is a house with a set of hydraulic levers that, when activated by high-velocity winds, pulls the house into the ground to safety. Once collapsed, the roof locks to make the structure both water and wind proof. The outer skin is composed of clear insulation sandwiched between two layers of Kevlar, providing a weather barrier that also lets in diffuse light.
Why burrow into the ground, rather than lift up out of harm’s way? Givens thinks that elevating the house fails to take into account the velocity of the water and the grinding power of debris. "The safest place," he maintains, "is down."
The whole neighborhood would be connected through sensor networks that interpret weather data. Acting like an organism, an entire suburb could be collapsed in seconds. 10 Design is currently developing a prototype with a group of ship builders in the United States and Africa. "The image of technology as a fire-breathing train slicing a trail of black smoke through the innocent forest painted by [Nathaniel] Hawthorne is slowly replaced by desire to respond to nature and not seek to dominate it," Givens writes. "The tornadoes and storms can burn and blow with all their fury while the suburb safely sleeps." And it won't feel like Kansas, either.