Option C: Hydraulics

Option C: Hydraulics

Employ a hydraulic or mechanical system to raise the house temporarily just prior to and during the flooding

From the Silman Report

Option C integrates a permanent hydraulic system into the building’s foundation so that in the event of a flood, the house can be mechanically lifted above the flood lines and lowered to its original elevation once the flood recedes. A first potential solution investigated was a simple seismic scissor lift but this did not demonstrate sufficient rigidity and stability in a lateral direction. After much study and refinement, a system that combined steel truss linkages and hydraulics was selected. The scheme for Option C would begin similarly to that of Options A and B: the existing foundations would be removed and replaced. However, in Option C, the foundations would be replaced with a new concrete pit into which hydraulic cylinders would be affixed.


VIDEO: Robert Silman Describes Option C – Hydraulics

The house would be attached to a new concrete slab located below grade which would form the ceiling of the pit; the house and slab would be lifted together by means of hydraulic actuators Much of the equipment for the hydraulic system could be located below grade in the pit.

The major advantage with Option C is that once the work is completed, the house will look and feel as it always has; all new structures will be hidden below grade until the mechanism is activated. The system would be a permanent solution that would directly attach to and become a part of the structure. The system as designed is completely reversible, albeit with a good deal of effort required to accomplish this.


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  4. Daryl Adams February 13, 2017 at 9:36 pm - Reply

    The following is a letter I submitted for consideration in April of 2014:

    Farnsworth House flood protection

    As an architect, I feel very strongly that the Farnsworth house should remain in its original location, where its siting and relationship with the landscape and views can be preserved as Mies intended. However, I also feel that the proposed mechanized hydraulic lift approach relies too heavily on expensive, custom fabricated systems. These systems will require elaborate backup electrical power and costly ongoing maintenance and repairs.
    I believe I have a less expensive, far simpler and more reliable solution. (sketch attached) It is a concept that makes use of technology that has been perfected over the years by the folks in the Netherlands to build permanent houseboats.

    The building could be lifted temporarily while a watertight reinforced concrete barge is constructed beneath it. The barge would rest on pedestals inside a slightly larger concrete “dry dock”. (Think empty swimming pool) All of this would be below grade, under the house and invisible. The top of the barge and the edge of the drydock could be treated to look just like the existing landscape. During a flood the rising water would fill the “dry dock” and the concrete barge would float upward, lifting the Farnsworth house and keeping it high and dry, regardless of the depth of the flooding. Such a barge would only require 3 or 4 feet of draft to float the building. Flood debris and silt could be controlled with collapsing screen barriers.

    As the flood waters recede the barge would simply settle back down into the “dry dock”. The last remaining water could be pumped from the dry dock with simple residential sump pumps, and everything would return to normal.

    I feel this would be a far more elegant and effectively foolproof system that would use the floodwater itself to protect the house without resorting to complicated, expensive mechanical systems. The technology is proven, and the construction is far more basic and economical than the elaborate machinery suggested thus far.

    Daryl Adams, Architect

  5. Matt July 19, 2015 at 3:53 pm - Reply

    A floating system vs. hydraulics? That actually has a lot of appeal.and without all the headaches. Mike H…very interesting idea!

  6. Jose I Sadurni AIA January 3, 2015 at 12:40 pm - Reply

    Yes I think it is correct.
    Cover the underneath of the house with foam planks and make the columns strech like hydraulic. The house will rise and lower by itself.

  7. Brian S. December 7, 2014 at 7:19 pm - Reply

    I recently stumbled on this website and for a variety of reason that have been posted; I agree that the house needs to stay in its current location without altering the land significantly. I really think the best option would be Option C, but not with hydraulic technology. I believe the same concept could be used, but with a floating concrete foundation system as previous commenter had suggested. These are a few of the problems I see with the hydraulic system:

    – Construction costs of such a system
    – Complexity
    – Potential for failure
    – Potential for hydraulic fluid leaks and contamination during a flood
    – Ongoing expensive preventative maintenance
    – The need for a “support” building/shed further up the hill above flood stage which housed systems like mechanical, electrical, pumps, and controls would need to be.

    There are many companies on the coasts that build floating houses, docks, etc. using hollow concrete filled with polystyrene. You would still excavate under the home and build a concrete foundation pit that is larger than the floating foundation “box” of the home. As flood water filled the foundation pit, the floating concrete box would rise. I would imagine there could be some sort of rails or guides that would affix the foundation box to all four sides of the foundation pit that would guide the home straight up and then back down into the pit. These rails/guides would also provide the necessary lateral support when the home is floating. I would assume that the hydraulic system would either extend the home 9ft in the air, regardless of the height of the floor water, which could potentially place unnecessary wind shear forces on the structure if, for instance, the flood waters were only 1 foot high, or the system would have to be constantly monitored to make sure the home was raised and lowered according to the flood waters. The floating foundation box would be “self-adjusting” to the flood waters. The home would only rise as high as the flood water and lower as the water receded, completely unmonitored. I have no idea what the costs would be, but I would have to imagine it would be cheaper than a complex hydraulic system. Plus, there would be virtually no future/ongoing maintenance costs. A floating concrete foundation would be almost fool proof. A review of websites indicates that floating concrete foundation homes are virtually unsinkable, to the point that insurance companies will cover such a home under a standard homeowner’s insurance policy with no additional riders, etc.

    The floating box system is akin to the lock system in the Panama Canal which raises and lowers massive cargo ships. Another commenter wrote that such an important project demands a simple and elegant solution. I believe the floating foundation system is just that. Think Archimedes and his bath tub. An understanding of the physical world by a man from 250 B.C. assists with a contemporary problem and saves one of the most important examples of modernist architecture. What is more elegant than that!

    • Mike H. January 16, 2015 at 11:31 am - Reply

      I am surprised and frankly disappointed to see that some sort of floating or buoyant foundation design was not at least investigated as an option. The potential environmental impacts of what would essentially be an underwater hydraulic system are a concern even with the added lateral stability of the truss design and whatever debris protection will be added. I would wonder about the permitting concerns that the EPA and USACE would have. At least anecdotally, the active hydraulic design would seem very cost-prohibitive compared to a passive buoyant foundation design in terms of both construction & maintenance costs. I would think some sort of pontoon, hollow concrete, or foam buoyant foundation design would at least be worth investigating. The Buoyant Foundation Project http://www.buoyantfoundation.org/ may be helpful for some overviews of these concepts.

  8. Roderick Scott September 2, 2014 at 5:23 pm - Reply

    This is the most expensive option. I believe there is a simpler way to elevate in place while utilizing hydraulics. We need to seek another simpler option. This is a very complex rigging method. Also, I don’t believe we can leave the rams in a pit at below grade. FEMA requires all mechanical equipment to be at or above the base flood elevation and equipment that is put under water is subject to water damage.

  9. Graham Grady July 10, 2014 at 6:34 pm - Reply

    Option C is best. If you add heavy duty pontoons to the underside of the concrete ceiling of the cell it would help the house “float” upon flooding and would relieve pressure on the hydraulic system by reducing the weight to be lifted. Floating piers, and even floating bridges (Lake Washington, Seattle) have been successfully used for many years.

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  12. maggie June 16, 2014 at 10:13 pm - Reply

    The way the house is situated on the site is so important that permanently raising or moving it would really detract from the aesthetic of the house. Saving the house must be more important than the chance someone might see it in its raised state. C appears to be the best option as long as the hydraulics can be hidden when not in use.

  13. Heath June 14, 2014 at 4:07 am - Reply

    Would it be possible to disconnect the plumbing and electrics through the core and when flood is imminenet somehow slide the entire core out onto a flatbed truck?

    Alternatively could the air pressure inside be raised enough to repel any flood waters without risking the glass? This would require decent but not a 100% air seal, a diesel powered generator temporaraily left on the roof?

  14. Mac Birch May 31, 2014 at 5:16 pm - Reply

    I think Option C was wrongly framed as an engineering marvel and a spectacle to behold. Of course, this is the option that got all the press. Instead, it should be presented as a routine, expensive but reluctantly necessary preservation effort.

    At the IIT Crown Hall presentation of flood mitigation alternatives on the evening of May 29, we heard some strong sentiment by some against this option. One participant coined it as a “Rube Goldberg contraption.” Others felt that an elegant house needed an elegant solution, i.e., an architectural solution instead of an engineering solution. I came away from the meeting with the impression that some of the attendants believed that mechanically raising the house represents an unacceptable intervention to the structure’s purity–that the indelible visage of the house in its raised position would spoil forever one’s appreciation of it after it had been lowered. For the general public worldwide, photos of it in this awkward and indignant position would become the essence of the house rather than the serene image that we all have now.

    I don’t hold such strong feelings myself but did gain a greater appreciation for the “dignity” of the house and the desire to pursue a solution that is more aesthetically pleasing than Option C, as currently expressed.

    Here are some possible modifications to this approach.

    1. Design the trusses in a way that is more fitting with the proportions of the house, e.g., use of Pratt or Howe trusses and paint the vertical and horizontal truss members white and camouflage the necessary diagonals. Supplement the engineering team with a named architect, such as Studio Gang, to consider other possible refinements.

    2. Provide skirting that hides the trusses and machinery when the house is raised. The skirt could be made of Kevlar fabric, chain link, semi-rigid hinged grids, custom-designed fabric loops, etc.

    3. Raising the house, either for testing or during a flood, should be a private matter–no public announcements, no photos, no spectacle.

    4. Since it is visible from the river and off premises, veil the facades of the house (e.g., plain white fabric or camouflage print) when it is raised. This would alter our impressions of the raised house so as not to subsume

    These are just a few thoughts. Thank you for reading this.

  15. Keith Bringe May 28, 2014 at 4:47 pm - Reply

    Yes. I vote for C and agree with Kristen S. – back-up power or manual activation are essential.

    Although this seems like the most intervention in the design – it will be the least apparent.

  16. Kristen S May 7, 2014 at 6:06 pm - Reply

    I prefer Option C. It limits the disturbance to the site, unlike Option A, and retains the connection of building to landscape, unlike Option B. It also allows the building to be raised to a higher level than topography and wheelchair accessibility allow, which allows planning for floods well beyond what we’ve seen to date.

    I worry about equipment stored on site, underground, and powered by electricity, even when it’s “failure proof”. Is there a simpler solution that can be operated manually, or can a manual system be the backup, rather than utilizing generators? Recent weather catastrophes have shown that relying on fuel backup can be foolish (floodwaters in the fuel storage tanks, floodwaters prevent generators from running, inability to get fuel with concurrent or prolonged disasters, etc), and we’ve had several events in the world in the last decade that make me question the security of our electric grid. If the plan is to implement a solution plans for weather disaster, it may be wise to incorporate the lessons learned from other disasters, as well.

    Is there an option for an inflatable raft and anchor to be attached to the underside of the building, and pins removed that would otherwise connect it to foundations?

  17. Alison H. April 25, 2014 at 3:46 pm - Reply

    This is my favorite option. The original site is so important to the identity of this masterpiece. Hydraulics means we can raise it out of danger when it floods and the majority of the time, visitors can see the house as it was meant to be seen.

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