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from March 2005 Coastal Living Magazine, page 74

Building to Last: Weathering the Storm       

By Ben Brown

Our special section highlights the latest in building technology and smart
construction that help coastal residents face Mother Nature at her best—and at her
When homeowners build on the coast, they “want to be in a position to observe all
that marvelous nature without disrupting it,” says Illinois architect Howard
Holtzman. But being there also means being involved with a sometimes-volatile
environment, one with driving rain, high winds, and storm surges.

“What do you do if you want what you build to last?” Howard asks. He and his
client Jerome Mirza of Chicago collaborated on a Florida home designed to
answer that question. Their project—an 11-year-old compound on Little Gasparilla
Island, along the state’s southwest Gulf coast—underwent the ultimate test last
August when Hurricane Charley’s eye passed some 10 miles to the south and
gouged a path of destruction northward. Despite the blow, the Mirza house and
guest cottage fared well.

Several weeks later, when Ivan roared into Gulf Shores, Alabama, Lundy Wilder
says floodwaters rose 9 feet on the outside walls of the concrete cottage she and
husband Harry had built on Little Lagoon. It took bulldozers three days to remove
the rubble of their neighbors’ homes from the Wilders’ yard. But their cottage
escaped intact.

The performance of these storm-zone homes depends on their skeletal
structures—industrial-strength components fabricated elsewhere and shipped to
the site. For Jerome’s house, Howard specified laminate wood posts and beams
of the type seen in bridges and large churches. They support the deep overhangs
and keep the elevated structure from twisting in high winds. The Wilders’ cottage,
featured in our 2004 “Building to Last” section and revisited this year after
surviving Ivan, has walls of mortarless concrete block that imitate the look of
architectural stone.

Increasingly, coastal designers and homeowners recognize the weather risks and
utilize factory design, technology, and assembly techniques to achieve structural
stability. Howard’s laminate house frame was built in Arkansas and erected by a
crew sent to the island by the manufacturer. The design was so well-planned in the
factory, assemblers only had to drill two new holes on site.

The Wilders took a different modular approach. Each of their cottage’s concrete
blocks, manufactured as elements in a system called DAC-ART, had a number to
correspond to a position on the building plan. Architectural details were cast into
the block scheme. The blocks provide the interior and exterior surfaces, so there
was no need for siding or drywall.

But it takes more than a modular system to create a stalwart home. While major
components of these structures were factory-produced, the stormworthiness of
both required complementary product choices and quality on-site workmanship.
Lundy grouted the block and scored the concrete floor herself. And she chose a
cost-effective, panelized approach to metal roofing endorsed by locals who had
installed and repaired many other kinds.

On Little Gasparilla Island, Howard relied upon a local pile driver who sank
supporting posts some 14 feet into the ground and had them aligned perfectly for
the laminate frame when it arrived by barge. “You want to do things that are
special in the shop,” says Howard. “But you want locals to do what they’re good at,
as well. It’s important that they know their contributions are key to the success of
the project.”
Copyright © 2005 Coastal Living

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