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The aesthetics of property flood resilience

Ed Barsley reviews the progress made when looking at the visual impact that the installation of property flood resilience measures may have on a property, without compromising on style or aesthetics.

When it comes to the look and style of property flood resilience measures, things can have a long way in a short space of time. Parallels can be made with the early days of the green building movement, where many of the new products and pieces of technology we used stuck out like sore thumbs. Yet now a home can be designed as a low impact, environmentally friendly building but you simply wouldn’t know it, as the way in which we can integrate and blend form and function has changed drastically. I’m pleased to say that when it comes to property flood resilience (PFR) we’re moving towards a similar place, as making your home or business more flood resilient does not have to mean compromising on its style or aesthetics. In fact, it can be quite the opposite. PFR can be used as a key design driver and help inform the layout of a space and how you’ll use it as well as the materiality of the floors, walls, furniture, and fittings.

But PFR measures don’t necessarily have to be hidden away or blended in their surroundings. It could instead be that you make a statement with the aesthetics of the property by showcasing its PFR materials and measures. For example, at the San Giobbe +160 project in Venice, a flood datum of 160cm (from external ground levels) was what the designers Act Romegialli used as a reference to inform the building’s layout, property flood resilience tanking strategy and the detailing of materials.

In the last few years there’s been a lot more variety in the types and style of PFR products that are available on the market, and even ones that are tailored to suit areas with more conditions and constraints with regards to aesthetics. There is, for example, a heritage flood door on the market that Historic England has approved for use on Grade 2 listed buildings. It’s been designed to replicate the aesthetics of a traditional door, has level thresholds, and can even be specified in a stable door format. It certainly doesn’t appear jarring the eye or stick out in the view of a streetscape, but crucially what it can do is help make a property more flood resistant and significantly slow down the rate at which flood water could enter a building.

Many of the properties we’ve featured in ‘Our Flood Resilient Home’ and ‘Our Flood Resilient Business’ series of Hazard + Hope have had PFR measures integrated into them to great success when it comes to their overall aesthetics. Sue for example, has found a way to retrofit and adapt her nearly 200 year old property to be more flood resilient, whilst also preserving many of the original features and character of the building. Lisa at the Blue Tea Pot Café has used the process of recovery/refurbishment after a flood as a chance to put her own stamp on the style and configuration of the space, whilst ensuring it’s a resilient repair. Leaving the café’s brickwork at lower level exposed was a functional decision to reduce the amount of plaster that could become damp / damaged by a flood and the resulting texture, with its signature Blue Tea Pot ‘blue’ colour ties the space together beautifully.

During the design phase and when specifying any material, device, or piece of furniture, it’s important to keep in mind the types of flood conditions that could arise in a property, so that we can tailor a strategy to suit the specific context and user needs. But we shouldn’t see any room layout or setup as rigid or immovable. When it comes to kitchens, kickboards and draws can be designed to be quick and easy to remove, washing machines can be raised and tables folded away. That temporary pre-flood ‘prepared’ state, when items may be lift and the barriers out, is not how many spaces will need to be lived in or look in regular times, but the presence and function that these PFR actions and measures provide can save a huge amount of disruption, damage and stress.

As I’ve drummed on about on this blog before, context is key when it comes to flood resilience. The site-specific nature of flood risk really demands that we pay close attention to the flood hazard and make-up of the built and natural environment around us, and we can use that to help inform the setup and style of any suite of PFR measures. If we can do that and encourage more contextually grounded designs that are tailored to suit the occupants needs, then we’ll have many more resilient and beautiful spaces and places… which I’m sure is what we’d all want to see.

Ed Barsley

Founder of ‘The Environmental Design Studio’ and ‘Hazard + Hope’

Author of ‘Retrofitting for Flood Resilience: A Guide to Building & Community Design’