How Architecture Adapts for Flood Zones |
How Architecture Adapts for Flood Zones

How Architecture Adapts for Flood Zones

How does architecture vary near coastal and flood areas?

Written by – Team
on August 17th 2018
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The word is out, ocean levels are rising. Global warming is giving us more hurricanes, heavy rainfall and four times more flooding than we did in 1980. Architecture and the sustainability of a building has always been oriented by its location, and we’re likely to see more adaptability to housing that can withstand floods.


Despite prevailing styles of the times, like whether something is Victorian or mid-century modern, certain features will adapt to the environmental challenges of its zone. This is especially noticeable when you travel close to coastal areas or flood zones. Architecture adapts for flood zones to help minimize damage caused by flooding. If you are curious to find out more, here are a few ways in which buildings are built to be more flood-resistant.


House on stilts at the beach to prevent flooding |

One of the main ways architecture makes homes more flood-proof is by providing ample space between the ground level and the building. Stilts are often used to help create that distance. However, stilts are not without design and functionality risks. The base flood elevation, the minimal height recommended in flood zones, is only an estimate and sometimes a strong storm may prove flooding to be higher than a building is prepared for. Additionally, even with adequate foundation growing, the height of the stilts may lend the building to wind damage and sway.


In terms of design, stilts pose an aesthetic challenge. The architect must balance the quality and functionality of the supporting columns and beams, while making sure the design still looks good. Also, as the floor is lifted from the ground (which is a natural sound barrier) echoing and noise control may be an issue. Sometimes the area under the house is used for car parking to make use of the space below.

Flood prevention and ventilation by lifting the house up above the ground, house in Koreshan State Park |

Retaining Walls

Retaining wall is architectural feature that helps prevent flooding |

Perhaps the more common solution for flood-resistant home design is to incorporate a retaining wall into the site’s landscaping design, along with trees and plants to help reduce soil erosion. Retaining walls have stipulations for different zones, but usually the foundation will need to be a minimum of 1.2 meters below the surface. Also, the height of the wall will need to exceed the typical flooding depth of the flood zone, to ensure that overflow from flood waters do not enter the space.


It is crucial that architectural designs also accommodate drainage between the building and the retaining wall. Where the retaining wall will make the house flood-resistant, it will not by itself make homes flood-proof. Rainfall and water accumulation between the foundation, doors, and retaining wall needs to be considered, and adequate drainage provided.

Limiting Entry

Flood prevention for canal house in Venice |
Flood prevention in Venice, by Act Romegialli

Water tends to snake itself into any cavity which is not firmly and intentionally secured. Often, windows in flood zones might be smaller but at least thicker than single pane. For larger windows, an architect commonly uses windows with metal supports, frames, as well as ensures that the height is above the flood level or able to keep water out.


Doors and other means of entry for water are minimized in flood-proof homes. Doors will tend to be raised above the ground level, perhaps requiring more stairs to access. They could be made from something like metal, or at least less susceptible to damage than wood.


In some cases, a flood barrier or flood panel might be sufficient, which can be slotted into the door frame when heavy rain is imminent.. There are other solutions, like the barrier built by Act Romegialli for the home above which sits on a canal in Venice. A higher wall in front of the front door prevents water from seeping into the home.

Build Above Flood Level

Houses sit above river in Norway |

If flooding is a huge concern, any architect working on a new build should check with the local zoning of the intended construction area to find out about the flooding levels. Choosing locations on a gradient or on the top of a hill will put homes at lower risk of flooding.


Generally, flood zones will require that architecture is designed to meet certain standards. However, do check whether your home is built on a floodplain, as construction is still approved on these zones.

Materials and Shapes

Make It Right foundation creates flood proof homes in New Orleans and other hurricane-prone areas |
Houses built by Make it Right foundation

Some building materials are more resistant to moisture and flooding than others. Wood is prone to swelling and warping in water, while plaster is prone to corrosion and more likely to crumble. Concrete, steel, and non-porous rock are commonly found in flood-resistant buildings.

Amphibious Homes

Maybe amphibious houses are the solution to rising sea levels? Amphibious homes are ones designed to rest on ground, but when flooding occurs they are able to rise with the tide thanks to guide-post foundations. Of course there are also floating homes, designed to live directly on the water.

Floating House Boats in Poovar, India |

There are many different ways to make a home flood-proof, and as we see more heavy rain and flooding, it’s important to consider these factors for your home. Often the spending on flood-prevention is far better than the money spent fixing a flood-damaged home!


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