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Extreme weather houseboat floats in Silicon Valley backyard

A couple of years ago, Chris Robinson was a former Facebook and PayPal art director with no boat-building (nor sailing) experience. Then the Tsunami hit Japan (where he’d lived and met his wife). He happened to be working in a startup incubator at the time with some “very smart people,” including an astronaut, and everyone was sketching ideas for tsunami-proof shelters.

“Ideas like helium balloon houses and personal jet packs were exciting lunchtime topics,” he writes on his blog. “Eventually, the idea of a floating ball as an escape vessel was hatched.”

Robinson liked his design (inspired by oil-derrick escape pods and the hanging tree house spheres from Canadian artist Tom Chudleigh) so much that he began to build it behind his house. Two years later, his backyard is dominated by his 22-foot-long, 10-foot-wide, and 8.5-foot-high plywood-and-epoxy tsunami-proof pod (AKA Tsunamiball).

He’s not a survivalist, but Robinson believes in the power of making things. “This is not a desperate attempt to save my family from the dreaded Palo Alto tsunamis that happen every year, but I think it’s a serious problem, and I haven’t seen a lot that’s being done about it and I just thought, what a great design challenge to just think it through. And the best way I know how to think it through is to build it.”