Erupting Stability: Tornado Proof House

Isn't the Wizard of Oz a clear example of the awesome force that a tornado can muster 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 build your home below flood level and out of cards in the wind. There is an urgent need to shift from an outmoded logic, ignorant of the forces of nature, to a point where the unabashed rush for profit and development can be balanced against the basic goal of providing shelter. Humanity is inexplicably driven to build in places where it should not-accepting the unavoidability of this folly is the first step to breathing in a new vision. We sought a way of turning the seemingly destructive acts of nature into creative blooms.

Kinetic architecture is the innovation which we believe will form the foundation for the habitation of the future. This type of architecture learns from technological innovation and amps up its incorporation into the home, custom tailoring existing mechanisms in new ways. The revised conception of the home finds itself somewhere between garage doors, flowers, and the survival mentality of a turtle. A series of simple hydraulic levers are used to push the home in and out of the ground and deflect and warp the outer skin in response to external stimulation. The key activators of this motion being the high velocity winds associated with thunderstorms and tornadoes. A series of solar cells on the outer skin rotate and flex to attain maximum solar intensity. A translucent outer skin consisting of clear insulation sandwiched between two layers of Kevlar provides the weather barrier and lets diffuse light into the structure. We are also exploring the application of photocatalytic coatings and carbon nanotubes on the skin to absorb and clean pollution turning it directly into fuel for the home to power the hydraulics.


A water tight seal locks the roof of the collapsed home making the structure water and wind proof. There have been a series of studies since the mid 90's showing homes that float up and out of harm's way. This solution does not anticipate the velocity of the water, and more importantly the grinding power of the debris contained in the water. The safest place is down.

Neighborhoods will become interwoven and connected together through sensor networks that interpret weather data. After warning sirens entire suburbs can be collapsed in seconds. The whole neighborhood will behave as an organism fit for a collective response to the challenges brought by the natural environment. The image of technology as a fire breathing train slicing a trail of black smoke through the innocent forest painted by Hawthorne is slowly replaced by a desire to respond to nature and not seek to dominate it. The tornadoes and storms can burn and blow with all their fury while the suburb safely sleeps.

Can we spin this violent ever present soup into a stabilizing direction We seek a new mobility for the home that is controlled not left to "chance" (there is nothing accidental about 100 year old weather patterns). We are currently working on the development of a prototype with a group of ship builders in the US and Africa.


"The tornado proof house intended to be a tornado and flood proof home for the American Mid-west. A portion of the house is raised up and down out of harm's way on a series of hydraulic arms. When a storm approaches sensors activate the hydraulics and lower the house into the ground and the roof is sealed under water proof doors. By raising the house, it allows for daylight and cross ventilation, which are lacked in typical underground houses. The house is intended to save lives and remove the extremely expensive rebuilding efforts required after storms", explained Ted Givens, Design Partner of IO. 

Too often natural disasters are seen as accidents, and not treated with full respect. IO seek to design architecture that is responsive to its natural context including the "probability" of disaster. This project started as a way to redesign the trailer park, and ended up as a new suburban concept for the tornado zones of the American mid-west. The practice's design was influenced by the kinetic ideas found in garage doors, portable campers, and sail boat hulls.

The goal of the project is to shift the way people look as natural disasters, and too ultimately design entire towns around the concept of disaster resistance. IO would like to get a prototype house build in the mid-west to start testing the concept. The project also provides the means to push the development and use of advanced building systems and materials such as Kevlar building skins and photocatalytic nano-coatings on the facades to speed their introduction to the market. The practice aims to test similar ideas around the globe based on the natural conditions where people live and to also organize a conference to explore a global response to natural disaster.

The project is also intended to change the way people look at planning neighborhoods and cities. IO's concept, if implemented, could have a significant impact on the design of the built environment. Hopefully it will spark numerous other creative ideas to respond to natural phenomenon.

IO's project would benefit mid to lower income residents of the American mid-west. The first goal was to replace a trailer park with the tornado proof houses. Then the practice would grow the project into a suburban neighborhood and then a small town, learning and refining the designs throughout the process. The design would ultimately benefit the US government and general public in reducing the cost of house insurance and the funds needed to rebuild after disasters.

IO would reach their target groups by building a prototype of the tornado proof house at a state fair somewhere in the mid-west. A state fair would give the project maximum exposure and also reach the intended audience. The practice would also like to organize a series of conferences to address the idea of disaster resistant housing at both the natural and international level. IO have observed similar issues in China, Africa, and South America.

IO work closely with engineers and manufacturers to make the project a success. The practice has been in initial talks with Buro-Happold to help engineer the project. Buro's Hong Kong team will help us figure out the basic engineering design in the coming months. IO have also been in talks with a boat manufacture in the southeast US, but unfortunately their company had a hostile takeover earlier this year. The practice is currently working talking to one of our existing architectural clients that owns a ship-building company in Taiwan and has the capacity to build the tornado house out of fiberglass or aluminum. However, their goal would be to find a US manufacturer.

Givens further added, "The project was based on a combination of simple existing ideas- just assembling them in a new way. It is really a marriage between architecture, boat design, and simple mechanics. The key elements are a series of hydraulic arms to move the house, and testing the idea of a Kevlar skin to lighten the house and at the same time make it stronger. IO first were introduced to a Kevlar ridig insulation Kevlar skin at Wilkes community college in North Carolina. The college was developing the system in their advanced material laboratory; my practice at the time was designing their new lab facility. This is one of the main reasons IO partner with universities to inspire our designers and to help think of ways to utilize the products and systems the universities are developing."

IO's initiative on the Tornado Proof House addresses a problem that people fail to recognize, namely dealing with natural disasters as "probabilities" and reacting to them before they occur instead of responding to the aftermath. The practice's project completely removes the house from harm's way and balances this security with the necessities of daily living. IO's project will save lives and the extreme costs of rebuilding lives and communities after storms. Hopefully the project would spark a micro-economic surge in the communities where they are constructed.

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