A French house for Jacksonville on the waterfront... 11 feet above grade!~

Services for Real Estate Pros with John Henry Masterworks Design International, Inc. 13013

This is the first sketch of a design for a custom home to be built in Jacksonville, Florida on the Atlantic backwater.  The owner is concerned about rising water and swells during hurricanes and decided that they wanted to be 11 feet above natural grade.

How to do this without it looking like it is sitting on a hill?

We will be building up 5 1/2 feet to the top of the turnaround in front.  Then another 5 1/2 feet to the main entry and finished floor.

The garage will be about 1 1/2 foot higher than the turnaround and behind it will connect to the main house at the side via a ramp, required for a relative that will be using a wheelchair.

At the rear we are very close to wetlands and the owner wants the house right against them which means we will have to deal with a retaining wall 11 feet high and need to soften that look.

There is another retaining wall at left on the property line as the owner will be pulling in a boat trailer and looping back around.

At the front there are two terraces on either side of the main entry stairs with 'battered' walls.  They will be clad in limestone to match the same used on the entry porch.

The house will be raised on concrete block and the first floor will also be concrete masonry units.  The second floor is typically framed in wood.  The second-floor system will be a series of 2 ft. wood trusses and the roof trusses pre-engineered.  The roof will consist of flat concrete tiles to emulate a slate roof.

The alternative to berming up to the house would have been to have the ground floor be a garage, storage, and rec room, etc. with breakaway walls for a typical "V zone" here in Florida.

See example below of a Venetian style home built on the Gulf side with no berming and the ground floor on grade.


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building high to avoid storm surges
a custom home on the coast built up off of grade to stay intact during hurricane water surges

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James Dray
Fathom Realty - Bentonville, AR
Exceptional Agents, Outstanding Results

Morning John.

Way beyond me, but that sure keeps you in business, which of course is a good thing.

Mar 06, 2020 01:40 AM #1
Michael Jacobs
Pasadena, CA
Los Angeles Pasadena 818.516.4393

Hello John - your client presented you with his situation and you arrived with a suitable plan.  Mission accomplished.  Again.  

Mar 06, 2020 06:01 AM #2
Patricia Feager, MBA, CRS, GRI,MRP
Selling Homes Changing Lives

John Henry, Florida Architect - What a challenge you have! I can't even imagine what it takes to fulfill this client's request. It takes a genius like you to come up with a plan, knowing what you're dealing with, and providing quality services to your clients. 

I like the first sketch design. I only had experience once with a builder building my garage on a slope in Northern, IL Once upon a time there were Glaciers on my property. I couldn't believe how much concrete was required on that slope and all that was needed to be done for a two car garage. What you're building is 100 x more complicated. Only someone with your talent could figure it out. Your sketch is gorgeous!!!

"Rising water." "Swells during hurricanes." Those are genuine concerns. 

I do wonder, how can you build something like this on a hill and does it have to meet the same standards as a structure in Japan? 

The garage and turnarounds is another piece of the puzzle that can't be as easy as it looks after it is completed. Years from now, I don't think anyone is going to wonder what it took to build the house and the garage. But what you build has to stand the test of time. Do you get to put your name on the cornerstone?

Retaining walls and wetlands. I shiver to think how challenging this will be. The house I lived in, in Northern, IL had an acre and its boundary was on a slope down to the creek. We didn't have a retaining wall; however, after 10 years, I was cognizant of erosion. We should have had a retaining wall.

I'm not familiar with battered walls. Do you think it's note worthy to provide answers in another post in the future?

I can only imagine how stunning and beautiful this home will be once it's completed. Approximately how long do you think it will take?

Mar 12, 2020 07:06 PM #3
Laura Cerrano
Feng Shui Manhattan Long Island - Locust Valley, NY
Certified Feng Shui Expert, Speaker & Researcher

11 feet is kind of amazing and I wish you good luck on the sale! Love and light!

Mar 12, 2020 09:45 PM #4
John Henry, Florida Architect
John Henry Masterworks Design International, Inc. - Orlando, FL
Residential Architect, Luxury Custom Home Design

Hello James Dray   Appreciate your comments.  Hopefully business will continue at a normal pace!

Hi Michael Jacobs   You can see there are two ways of getting above high water!  Thanks

Hi Patricia Feager, MBA, CRS, GRI,MRP  Houses built on marshy soils must have a deeper foundation than others on stable ground.  And these two both require(d) concrete block walls or poured in place concrete until at least to the finished slab for the first floor.  Your glacier sloping garage needed more concrete than expected due to, my guess, the distance from the garage slab to stable ground below.  Yes, architects used to put their names on a cornerstone, ha.  I've never done that but on notable designs it may be a good idea!  There are many houses here in Florida that are built up high.  If the garages were placed at natural grade, and the living area built above as in the second example, everything in them would flood at high water.  Storm surges and rising tides are more common in the area of the sketch design.  Battered walls are angled in a bit; it goes back to castle fortification.  A good contractor would need 18 months to get this project built.  Thanks very much for your comments and great questions!

Hi Laura Cerrano   The eleven feet will be mediated by the turnaround and garage being built about half way up and then the retaining walls will be backfilled to some degree to hide the elevation.  Thank you!

Mar 13, 2020 04:16 AM #5
Melinda (Mel) Peterson
Grants Pass, OR - Bend, OR
The Blessed Realtor - ABR, CRS

Hi John,

I'm in the middle of designing/building a garage with an Apt on the 2nd floor.  I've been amazed at the starts and stops in the design process due to simple things like height setback requirements (as the location of our build is sandwiched with streets on 3 corners of the property).

I can't imagine the degree of thought that must go into designing a structure built to withstand storm surges and rising tides, let along natural wetlands.  Makes my project look like a walk in the park. 

Mar 15, 2020 06:37 PM #6
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Residential Architect, Luxury Custom Home Design
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