The Challenges of Designing Coastal Architecture
post by: Rick Pinkerton
The old coastal style architecture has changed. The traditional style of the one and one-half-story beach bungalow used to be prevalent. This old style has taken a back seat to the new shore house recipe. Today you see multi-story boxes with lots of open floor space and expansive views, all while maximizing the footprint on the site. Most of what you see architecturally today is a result of new environmental and building code regulations. Creating good architecture within all the new parameters comes with numerous design challenges.
Flooding is a real concern for coastal construction. FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) has flood plain data for all areas throughout the country. FEMA dictates the base flood elevation for your location. That elevation dictates where your first-floor living is required to be relative to the existing grade. FEMA also has specific engineering requirements based on the location of the site. The closer to the water’s edge you are, the more stringent are the requirements for engineering.
Depending on the town requirements, there is a building height restriction as well. Houses are typically three stories high but most clients want to maximize the square footage to get the most out of their allowable footprint. Having to add another floor with building height restriction makes scale and proportion a challenge. Windows and glass doors need to comply with wind velocity loads and limit the amount of glass allowed. Most clients want to maximize the view, but having restrictions on the amount of glass makes that more challenging.
As architects, we need to be familiar with the current technical end of construction– especially building along the coastline where wind and storm surges are inevitable. Good design is a result of successfully meeting all those challenges and, at the same time, satisfying clients’ programmatic requirements. Creating good architecture with the appropriate scale and proportion given all of these restrictions is the ultimate goal.