After the tsunami hit Japan several years ago and destroyed part of the country he once knew, Palo Alto developer Chris Robinson conceived of a project far outside the realm of the Web. He built “Tsunamiball,” a 3,000 pound modern ark for his family to survive a Big Wave.
Designer, Tsunamiball creator
For more on Tsunamiball, take a trip to the ark’s site and watch the author build it piece by piece.
A true builder doesn’t show off. He just points and he says, ‘I made that.’ Like a construction worker that can look up at skyscrapers in Manhattan with his wife and kids to marvel at his creation, I can point to my figurative skyscraper in my backyard and say, ‘I made that.’
I call the boat Tsunamiball. Following the tsunamis that hit Japan in 2011, I was inspired to design something more concrete than a user experience platform. I worked at Facebook and Paypal, designing digital things, but I also lived in Japan. When I saw some of the places I had visited simply demolished by the tsunami, I questioned what I’d actually do to protect my own family if such an event was to occur along the California coastline.
I imagined a large capsule, designed as an evacuation pod, that could withstand tsunami waves and protect the lives of the people inside. I’d gladly appreciate help, but the incredible weight of the boat itself is inherently dangerous. I recently attempted to spin the entire structure halfway around to work on the bottom. The 3,000-pound boat slipped off its jackstand, inches from crushing me before it was halted by the support structure below.
Receiving no assistance obviously makes each step of Tsunamiball’s construction even more difficult and time-consuming. On the other hand, it only adds to the fact that this is the physical manifestation of a certain legacy. My creations were always temporary. You spend your life creating, but they disappear. You make a website, and three months later it’s down. You make something like this and it’ll be there for a while.
The plan is to use the two huge wooden donuts I’ve constructed over the past few months to spin Tsunamiball. A friend who works on Broadway sets told me I could spin the entire structure using something like a rotisserie. Rather than drill a hole through the middle of the whole boat, I opted for the donuts.
The most difficult part is when things just pop up. It could take a month to finish a single section and then I might realize I have to do it all over again. Some parts, like the stripping, are incredibly monotonous. It’s just layer after layer. When you have to do something like that over again all you can do is take a deep breath.
A friend of a friend from near Fukushima came over to check out Tsunamiball. Of all things, he immediately said, “My dad has some of these in his backyard.” It’s pure coincidence, but people are out there building things similar in shape to Tsunamiball at the same time I’m building it.
It’s like parenting. You learn as you go along. I’m right in the middle of being smart enough to pull this thing off but not smart enough not to have started in the first place.
I don’t know what people will think about Tsunamiball in ten or twenty years, but I know it’ll still be in my backyard. Perhaps I’ll have built a second one by then. I really hope more people build things. With a few simple tools and a basic idea of construction you can really build anything.
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