An award-winning home design by School of Architecture alumni Christina Geros (’05) and Matt Jordan (’05) features a South Knoxville blufftop location with spectacular views of the Tennessee River, a rooftop garden, and a roomy open floor plan—plus a secure arsenal, a moat and drawbridge, and an escape stairwell that leads to an underground boat canal.
Geros and Jordan’s Look.Out.House was among the winners in the 2011 Zombie Safe House, an annual competition that draws entries from architecture students and professionals around the world. Their design was included in an exhibition of emerging architecture and design professionals at the American Institute of Architects headquarters in Washington, DC, and featured in a recent story about the competition in The Economist’s book, arts, and culture blog, Prospero.
The two were initially drawn to the competition by the opportunity it presented for creativity. “When you’re a practicing architect it can be easy to get bogged down in the day-to-day, so you look for a chance to expand,” says Jordan, who is employed at Knoxville architecture firm BarberMcMurry. “We were drawn to the silliness of it,” adds Geros, a Master of Architecture in Urban Design candidate at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design.
They turned to the past for the model of a defensive home. “If you think about it, humankind has survived many zombie attacks. We dug into historical precedent,” says Geros.
“We started by looking at medieval structures. They all had moats, escape paths, vantage points,” says Jordan. “Then we updated it to a clean, modern aesthetic.”
Far from the image of a dark, claustrophobic fortress, Look.Out.House is designed, in the words of its competition entry, for “surviving in style.” Built-in storage, a round fireplace, and panoramic windows (secured with louvered metal sunshades) all help ensure that “the zombie apocalypse will seem like nothing more than a Hollywood film for which one just happens to have luxurious skybox seating.” Even the moat is designed for visual appeal, with the same infinity-edge styling as luxury pools.
“The common trend for protection is to have a fortification that you carry with you, or an underground bunker,” says Geros. “But this is a place where you live and make your life. It should have a nice view and easy access to local resources.” Fishing trips between attacks could provide a source of fresh food, for example.
The location offered other benefits, such as long-range visibility and an escape tunnel—but it also puts the builders and inhabitants on display, says Jordan: “It’s right out in public that you’re protecting yourself.” Proximity to the Body Farm (UT’s Anthropological Research Facility) and the UT Medical Center were also potential concerns.
The need for such features as solar panels and a water collection purification system, designed to foster off-the-grid sustainability, brought a practical element to the fun of designing a zombie-proof house. “If we bring those things back to the real world, how much energy can we save?” asks Jordan.
“Except for the moat and the escape, most of it’s actually pretty pragmatic,” says Geros.