Architect rethinks how to build safe coastal homes in SWFL after Ian

Reporter: Lindsey Sablan Writer: Joey Pellegrino

In the wake of Hurricane Ian, many have wondered if homes along the coast should even be rebuilt. But one architect believes people will want to live with ocean views no matter what, and that it’s possible to have them if built correctly.

Architect Joyce Owens is renowned for designing homes in sync with Southwest Florida’s environment. She appreciates the beauty of the environment and of manmade architecture, and she respects the forces of nature, like the power of a hurricane.

“I think when we build on the beach, we just, we have to be very smart about it,” Owens said. “We got to let Mother Nature do its thing.”

Owens brought WINK News on a tour of a home she designed on Sanibel Island. The first step in her reconstruction process involves building up, as FEMA codes require. But it’s more than just building higher: Another older home used to stand in that spot; wood pilings were used for the home to sit on, but when the storm surge came in it pushed the home all the way back to the street.

“What does a hurricane do, like, how does the hurricane damage a building?” Owens said. “That kind of became a real interest for me, which had then sort of compounded with my passion for building appropriately for the place.”

Owens’ foundation for building brings in smarter concepts.

“Those pilings are below the ground, and then there’s a beam that goes around them and ties them all together and makes them strong,” Owens said. “Any wall that is parallel to the beach is a sacrificial wall, or called ‘blowout construction.’ And so those walls will be sacrificed and they will just keep going, they will be blown out, and then the water can pass through. And then the walls that are holding the house in this direction are very strong, and they’re not going anywhere, because they’re being held down by these tree roots.”

The house has a raised pool, and the layout takes Southwest Florida’s climate into account, maximizing outdoor space, shade, and gulf breezes.

“Every time you see a door, there’ll be a window on the other side… or another door, so that the air can easily move through,” Owens said. “And then we try to put protection over doors and windows, too, so the heat from the Florida sun isn’t just in those windows and doors all the time.”

And while Hurricane Ian devastated this community, Owens feels it has allowed us to correct the shortcomings of past builders.

“You know, our builders came from the midwest, and they just built, they built and built and built and built, and it took 20 to 30 years before we realized, ‘Oh, we can’t build like that.’ That doesn’t work here. It worked up north, but it doesn’t work down here,” Owens said. “You’re not supposed to have any rooms on the lower ground floor, only storage and cars and stairs.”

In July, Owens became the first woman to win the gold medal from the Florida chapter of the American Institute of Architects, the organization’s highest award. In November, Gulfshore Life named her one of its Men and Women of the Year.

“These houses are designed to be beautiful as well,” Owens said. “They’re not just functional, like shelter for people; they’re actually beautiful pieces of architecture.”

Owens is a changemaker helping to reshape Southwest Florida’s landscape for the future.
If you want to read more about Owens and the other Men and Women of the Year, head to the Gulfshore Life website.

Copyright ©2024 Fort Myers Broadcasting. All rights reserved.

This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without prior written consent.