Designer builds floating off-grid "tsunami-proof" shelter in his backyard
March 25, 2014
Following the tsunami that hit Japan in March, 2011, designer Chris Robinson was inspired to create an escape pod to ensure he and his family could survive if such a disaster were to occur in his home city of Palo Alto, California. After some two years of painstaking design and construction, his floating off-grid shelter, dubbed Tsunamiball, is nearing completion.
The Tsunamiball brings to mind both the Tsunami House and the Exbury Egg, but while both those projects were designed with input from specialists in their respective fields, Robinson had no prior boat building experience and fly solo on the project.
The planning process began slowly and involved lighthearted conversations between friends, concerning what a family would need to survive during a tsunami. Eventually, Robinson settled on the idea of a floating escape vessel that essentially works as a simple – and hopefully very tough – boat.
The actual construction has so far largely involved a process of trial-and-error, with Robinson learning as he goes. The structure measures 6 x 3 x 2.5 m (22 x 10 x 8.5 ft), and the main building material is plywood, as steel was deemed too difficult to work with.
Since the biggest challenge is not the vessel's buoyancy, but ensuring it can withstand the impact of debris, the outer hull comprises 6.4 cm (2.5 inch) thick marine-grade plywood. This plywood is covered by an abrasion-resistant polyester material and joined with epoxy to offer a toughness that Robinson likens to Kevlar.
The floating shelter includes a captain's window and several portholes, and once construction is complete, will feature a total of 60 layers of wood in a bid to ensure durability. Though standard screws were initially used to bring the wood together, they were then removed in favor of plastic staples designed specifically for boat building.
The Tsunamiball is still very much a work in progress, but Robinson informed Gizmag that future plans include flexible solar panels which will be hooked up to an array of seaworthy batteries, an electric motor, and a compostable toilet. In addition, the interior will feature bench seating with five point harnesses that fold into beds, plus some hammock seating. There will also be a small electric stove, kitchen area, and ample storage.
Robinson expects to complete work later this year, and will then test Tsunamiball's efficacy as thoroughly as possible by first floating it in a swimming pool, then dropping it into the ocean for a few hours, moving the structure with the help of a crane and flatbed truck.
Once testing is complete, the plan is for the Tsunamiball to be installed above Robinson's garage, ready for use should the admittedly very unlikely scenario of a tsunami hitting Palo Alto occur. Until then, it will serve as a guest-room and perhaps an AIRbnb too.
We'll check in on Robinson in a few months once he's finished the project. In the meantime, the image gallery details the construction step-by-step, and there are plenty of great blog posts detailing the project on the source link below.