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Environmentally Friendly Flood Resistant Prototype Structure Wins Local Awards

G.M. Hill Engineering, Inc. (GMHILL) is the recipient of two local awards. These awards are for the design and engineering of a flood-resistant prototype structure for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission. The 2020 AIA Jacksonville Design and Honor Awards chose GMHILL for the Award of Excellence in the Residential Built Category, as well as the Association of Conservation Engineers (ACE) Carl V. Anderson Engineering Project Awards.

Located in Fisheating Creek Wildlife Management Area, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission faced disruption of service to the existing housing structure after significant storm events (as much as 3′ – 4′ of floodwater). To meet this challenge, it was determined a new cabin design, that would withstand intermittent flooding in the area and become a prototype for future buildings, was the best approach.

One of the judges, Ann Smith observed, “This is a great response to the coastal flooding issue. The design is innovative and allows building in an area that would otherwise be un-usable. The floating approach is accomplished through creative use of traditional materials. The design is straightforward, simple, and will serve as an example for others with this challenge.”

Design Solution

In alignment with the Commission’s mission, “Managing fish and wildlife resources for their long-term well-being and the benefit of people” and true to its “campground” location, the prototype cabin was designed to minimize its impact on the environment. It was also designed to provide a much valued place of respite to visitors.

As an alternative to a traditional site flood mitigation, the design team determined an amphibious-type structure to be an ideal solution. This is a design strategy that allows an otherwise ordinary structure to float on the surface of rising floodwater, in order to withstand inundation or infiltration. The amphibious cabin is a mitigation strategy that works in harmony with the area’s natural cycles of flooding, rather than attempting to thwart them.

Site, Architecture, and Structure

Design started with the goal of minimizing site impact. Utilizing the prior building’s pad, the design eliminated further site clearing by keeping the beautiful mature tree canopy intact. This solution allowed GMHILL to tie into the existing septic system and reconnected to existing facilities. To meet ADA requirements and provide a facility for all visitors, an ADA paved parking spot, walkway, and a fixed ramp and stairs were carefully added to the design.

In accordance with the client’s mission, a clean, cohesive design of the new cabin resembles other structures in Fisheating Creek. The design is also in harmony with the surrounding environment. Its utilitarian design provides natural day light with several windows, as well as clearstory windows accommodated for higher ceilings.

The supporting wood-framed porch, rampway and stairs, including the front porch roof canopy, are designed to remain at grade during a flood event. The enclosed portion of the structure rises within the intensifying flood waters. This enclosed portion is designed with foam-filled polyethylene floats secured to the floor framing system, to allow up to 48 inches of vertical travel during a flood event. With the finish floor elevation being 3 feet above grade, this will accommodate 7 feet of rising flood waters.

Benefit to Client & Community

To date, the cabin has proven to be a place that delights visitors, offers overnight accommodations to those guests requiring ADA facilities, and has solved the design challenge. Because it is a prototype design, the client’s intent is to build additional cabins to meet visitor’s needs. They are also considering similar amphibious-type structures for other facilities in the wildlife area.

GMHILL is very grateful for the award recognition and proud of this prototype structure that was designed.