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


In the wake of Hurricane Ian, many have questioned whether houses along the coast should be rebuilt at all. But one architect believes that people definitely want to live with sea views and that it is possible to have them if built properly.

Architect Joyce Owens is known for designing homes that blend with the Southwest Florida environment. She appreciates the beauty of the environment and man-made architecture, and she respects the forces of nature, like the force of a hurricane.

“I think if we’re going to build on the beach, we just have to be really smart,” Owens said. “We have to let Mother Nature do her thing.”

Owens took WINK News on a tour of a home she designed on Sanibel Island. The first step in their rebuilding process involves building as required by FEMA regulations. But it’s more than just building taller: another older house used to stand on this site; Wooden poles were used for the house to sit on, but when the storm surge hit it pushed the house all the way back to the street.

“What does a hurricane do, how does the hurricane damage a building?” said Owens. “That became a real interest for me, which then kind of blended with my passion for building in that place.”

The Owens Foundation for Building brings smarter ideas.

“These stakes are underground, and then there’s a beam that goes around them and holds them all together and makes them strong,” Owens said. “Any wall that runs parallel to the beach is a sacrificial wall or is called a ‘blowout construction.’ And so these walls are sacrificed and they’ll just keep going, they’ll be blown away, and then the water can flow through. And then the walls that hold the house in that direction are very strong, and they’re not going anywhere because they’re being held by these tree roots.”

The home features an elevated pool, and the layout takes into account the Southwest Florida climate, maximizing outdoor space, shade, and Gulf breezes.

“Every time you see a door, there’s a window on the other side…or another door to allow air to flow through easily,” Owens said. “And then we try to protect doors and windows as well 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 believes it has allowed us to correct the shortcomings of previous builders.

“You know, our builders came from the Midwest, and they just built, they built and built and built and built, and it took us 20 to 30 years to realize, ‘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. “Thou shalt have no basement rooms, only storerooms 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 honor. In November, Gulfshore Life named her one of its Men and Women of the Year.

“These homes are also designed to be beautiful,” Owens said. “They’re not just functional, like a shelter for people; They are actually beautiful pieces of architecture.”

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

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