Guest Blog by Derek Mason – Structural engineer
My firm Super Structures Associates is a consultant structural engineer based in Twickenham that develops structurally sound, economically viable, ‘wow’ building designs.
Projects range from developing £multi-million complexes, to consultancy for temporary works to structural design for bespoke residential homes.
It is our technical prowess for modern, clean design and astute commercial acumen that results in saving clients’ time and money.
Now the weather has warmed up, it’s hard to believe we were being battered by Storm Doris a few short weeks ago. And yet it seems that severe winter storms are set to become the norm. Looking back to the winter before last, the floods in parts of the UK in 2015/16 were “the most extreme on record” according to Terry Marsh, lead author of a study by the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology. The rivers Eden, Tyne and Lune in Appleby in Cumbria, in Newcastle and in Lancaster, saw record peaks of around 1,700 cubic metres per second.
Mr Marsh said that, “The associated flooding was both extensive and repetitive, and total river outflows from Great Britain following the passage of Storm Desmond in December exceeded the previous maximum by a substantial margin”. So in our line of work, flood risk is something that we’re going to need to consider more and more. Because unless we put in adequate prevention measures in new and existing buildings, more and more people are going to suffer flooding in their homes and businesses.
Often the focus is on keeping the water out. Temporary flood defences from gates that slide over doors and windows, to pop-up flood barriers and even sandbags can all help, but they’re not fool proof and you have to know the flood is on its way. We need more innovation in this area and often there is benefit in looking to other countries for ideas and inspiration. With such a flat country, the Dutch have had to be masters at flood defences, from manmade sand bars to amphibious houses and buildings on stilts, and some of their ideas are starting to be developed in the UK, but we need more.
The amphibious house idea has made its way over here – with British firm of architects BACA having built a floating house on an island in the Thames at Marlow more than three years ago. The ground around the house was excavated and the buoyant concrete base of the house is like the hull of the ship, floating up when flooding occurs. Four fixed steel posts keep the house in place as it rises up, and it can go up to 2.5 metres above its base level. Generally though, other than a handful of projects, we are not doing much in the UK to create homes that can tolerate floods. And given that we love to build homes on flood plains in this country, that seems a little short-sighted.
Why aren’t we building homes that can withstand flooding? There’s a lot we can do to improve designs to help people cope better with inevitable flooding. We know that we can minimise damage by using low permeable building materials, high electric points and flood resilient materials. But it seems to me that a radical rethink of design is in order for homes and other buildings on flood plains. Hopefully by next winter…
If there’s anything at all we can help you with, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.
Kind Regards Derek Mason CEng PrEng MSc(Eng) MSAICE MICE MIStructE