Campus and Community

New Perspectives: Keeping Houstonians’ Lives Above Water

Dr. Arash Rahmatian
Photo: Thomas B. Shea

(The following article was published in the recent edition of UHD Magazine.)

It’s a well-known fact that Houston is prone to flooding. Heavy rains can bring the city to a standstill, but a University of Houston-Downtown (UHD) professor has been developing projects that might keep residential areas and city roads above water, and possibly save lives.

Dr. Arash Rahmation, assistant professor in UHD’s College of Sciences and Technology and program director of the college’s Structural Engineering Program, has engaged students with projects addressing the Bayou City’s flooding issues. In past semesters, Rahmation’s students developed possible solutions using a unique mix of lightweight and high performance concretes (HPC).

According to Rahmation, regular concrete often becomes saturated, whereas lightweight concrete absorbs water and also will rise slightly when exposed to high volumes of water. The most prominent structure constructed of lightweight concrete is the Evergreen Point Floating Bridge that connects Seattle and Medina, Washington and extends nearly 8,000 feet across Lake Washington. Lightweight concrete also is used in the Benicia-Martinez Bridge in California, which extends nearly 9,000 feet over the Carquinez Strait.

“We’re going to apply these technologies on our highways, driveways and safe zones in Houston,” said Rahmation. “Blocking roads with high water isn’t always the best solution.”

Students in his fall Senior Capstone course spend a semester in groups developing structures that can benefit Houstonians during floods. Rahmation and students work on projects on the external south side of the first floor of UHD’s One Main Building. He also showcases his work to campus visitors and present projects to representatives from the Harris County Flood Control District and Houston Parks Department.

Other recent projects have included floating pods that would, in theory, collect trash floating in flood waters; stairs (for external use on a home or garage) that could maintain above water; and a floating platform or “Safe Zone Area” that can elevate roadways or driveways above flood zones.

The “Safe Zone Area” was presented to City of Houston officials. According to Rahmation, it would be revolutionary if used for roads or freeways in a flood-prone metropolis like Houston. Likewise, working with lightweight concrete can be a game changer for students who will pursue careers as civil engineers or architects.

“The main thing I teach my students is how they can solve our city’s problems,” Rahmation said. “I want them to develop ideas that will help the people of Houston by looking at the issues, provide solutions and fully explore new ways of responding to the city’s flood problems.”