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Architecture, urban planning and research in, on and next to water

Architects Worldwide Invent Groundbreaking Floating And Flood-Resistant Solutions To Climate Change

Sea levels are rising to new highs, temperatures are increasing, floods and storms are getting fiercer and more widespread, Hurricane Harvey battered Texas and Hurricane Irma devastated Florida and the Caribbean, and hundreds of millions of people along floodplains worldwide live under threat due to climate change. Nations like the Maldives have to build on water or move to flee rising sea levels, New Orleans has to battle storm surges and Jakarta has to cope with massive flooding. Inaction doesn’t always benefit cities, as innovations driven by changing realities can introduce new prosperity. Mitigating the effects of climate change is usually seen as a cost, but the resulting modifications made in cities can lead to long-term economic and social benefits. Climate change is not just about the risk of floods and drowning, but also the financial cost of damaged property and businesses and how it will redefine which parts of a city are sought after and which are unsafe. A one meter sea level rise would reorganize maps and affect financial stability in many of the world’s biggest waterfronts, and precious real estate in places like New York and Miami would be lost. Lots of land in Bangladesh, India and the Philippines would also vanish. Many of the water defense systems in the Netherlands safeguarding the country would become ineffective. World leaders may be delaying addressing the issue as they favor short-term strategies with immediate benefits, but in the meantime, certain architects are working on solutions to build more resilient structures on the water or to address flood protection on land and changing the rules that traditional urban planning has imposed upon us. By resolving the issues stemming from climate change and urbanization, water-based architecture is redefining urbanism. Offering a minimally-invasive method of construction, modern floating developments take advantage of coastal zones, rivers, lakes and canals in space-starved cities and provide flexibility as they may be modified, moved and reused until the end of their lifecycles when they are recycled. The technologies and innovations required for water-based constructions already exist, but now changing the perception towards floating schemes is key to a more sustainable and safer future able to meet modern-day challenges.

Waterstudio’s Citadel floating apartment complex composed of 60 units in The New Water, city of Westland, The NetherlandsCOURTESY OF ARCHITECT KOEN OLTHUIS – WATERSTUDIO.NL


What if instead of fighting rising sea levels, we embrace the water by integrating it into our cities, creating resilient buildings and infrastructure that can deal with extreme flooding and heavy rains? As many metropolises are situated near the water, it is logical that cities will find a way to live with the water instead of relocating inland. A leader in floating architecture who sees the potential that water can bring in making cities more resilient and safer, Koen Olthuis and his Amsterdam-based firm Waterstudio founded in 2003 – among the first to focus exclusively on waterborne architecture – have been showing the benefits of building on the water and how befriending water is a means for survival. This is an architect who was raised in an artificial landscape engineered for water, as about one-third of the Netherlands with over 60 % of the country’s population lies below sea level, and the Dutch have spent the last thousand years constructing storm surge barriers, dikes, pumps and drainage systems to keep the North Sea out. Experts in high-tech engineering, water management and resilience planning, they have installed lakes, parks, plazas and carparks that serve social needs, but also double as giant emergency reservoirs for when floods occur from storms now predicted to happen every five to 10 years. Water has been a way of life in the Netherlands and foreign delegations from Jakarta, Ho Chi Minh City, New York and New Orleans often visit to learn from them. Climate change adaptation is high on the public agenda although the country hasn’t met with a disaster in years because the population has seen the benefits of improving public space, which is the additional economic value of investing in resilience.

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INHABITAT INTERVIEW: Koen Olthuis of talks about design for a Water World

In light of all the dire news related to climate change, rising sea levels and the natural disasters which have stricken numerous coastal areas around the world, we here at Inhabitat would like to highlight an interview Inhabitat Editor-in-Chief Jill Fehrenbacher conducted with architect Koen Olthuis of A studio focused on designing for a future water world, Olthuis has been at the forefront of this once unconventional, yet now timely design vernacular. Olthuis says that despite our civilization’s history of trying to drain and fight against wet landscapes for the past thousand years, our best move for the future would be to “let water in and even make friends with the water.” Read on for the fascinating interview where Olthius describes his what designing for water landscapes worldwide really means.

You have to trust an architect who has grown up in a landscape completely engineered for water. Roughly a third of the Netherlands lies below sea level, and is home to over sixty percent of the country’s population of 15.8 million people. The Dutch have spent the last thousand years constructing dikes, pumps, and drainage systems in a constant battle to keep the encroaching North Sea at bay. On my recent trip to the Netherlands, I was fortunate to get the chance to sit down with architect, to discuss amphibious dwellings, floating foundations, and his experiences designing for water landscapes worldwide.

Jill: So Holland is almost completely built on wetlands, right?

Koen: Yes, the landscape is completely artificial. It’s fake in the sense that we have pumped out all the water, created dikes, and if you don’t have those dikes, then this would all be under water. The problem is we have three and a half thousand areas like this. It is amazing. And if you ask just somebody in Holland, they don’t even realize it. People in Holland are so used to the idea that I think nobody knows what the risks are anymore. And people from the United States and China, watch our systems of keeping the water out of the landscape the water out. But while they want to emulate our system of dikes, we are actually trying to move away from fighting against the water. Now we are beginning to let the water in and we are starting to make friends with the water. We have to do that because eventually the dikes won’t be able to keep up and all of this part of Holland’s will be flooded. So, its better just to work with the water instead of fighting against it.

Jill: How did Holland get like this in the first place?

Koen:: Well, when the first people came here from France and Germany, they came to the coast and they found space to live in this swamp and they created little artificial hills – what we call terpen. And between each hill was swamp. And then they created dikes from one hill to another hill in order to keep them dry. And then after awhile, you have one, two, three, four terpen – artificial hills with dikes around them, you say okay, why don’t we just pump out the water in between it. And so this gradually became dry land – what we call a polder. Only the people had to pump out the water constantly. Because if you stop pumping, then in 48 hours, a polder will be flooded again with 30 to 60 centimeters water. That means that if you stop pumping, this will all be water immediately. And so, Holland is completely artificial, because we just keep on pumping – Well, three and a half thousand polders constantly pumping out the water is a problem at times when there is a lot of rain and the river gets too high, and when the sea water level is high…

Jill: Some of your houses are floating, some of them are raised and some of them are amphibious. Can you explain the difference? I mean, I see houseboats all over Amsterdam – how are your buildings different from houseboats?

Koen:: Well there’s 60,000 houseboats in Amsterdam, but all of those have dimensions of five to six meters by 20 to 25. We’re doing something completely different, which allows the buildings to get much bigger and be a lot more stable. We have a patented technology to create special “floating foundations” with foam and concrete – what we call floating land. These foundations move up and down on piles. This allows us to go up to 200 – 200 meters in dimension and create larger structures. We use the term amphibious to describe these floating foundations that rest on piles. The foundation is set on dry land, and when the water comes, the foundation comes loose from those piles and floats upward, and become a floating house.

Jill: How did you get started in this business in the first place?

Koen:: We did a few designs for Amsterdam on the water, and I loved it. That’s what got me hooked. And I think, well, this is the choice I have to make. The first years were very hard, and now it’s getting easier.

Jill: How many houses and buildings have you actually built? I see a lot of CAD images of projects in the works, but not a lot of photos.

Koen:: We’ve built I think 24 houses now. But most of them — I think around 20 — are just modern houseboats. They are a little fancier than a normal house, but still they are houseboats.

I think we’ve built four really architectural, beautiful, unique buildings, and then we have 27 or 28 projects currently in the works, like the floating mosque in Dubai, like the floating boulevard in Antwerp, like the Health Village in Aruba.

The thing about our technique of working with the water is that the buildings and the floating foundations require very little maintenance. With these floating house techniques, waterproof houses, apartments, everything, you can just go on top of the normal structure of the polders and keep the original landscape in the same way as it is.

Jill: It sounds like it’s much more efficient and better for the environment. You don’t have to do anything to maintain it?

Koen:: Yeah, that’s correct. The only thing you have to be sure of is that the water quality underneath those big structures is alright. And that depends of the amount of oxygen, how the sand gets underneath your platform, the current…well, lots of factors. This works for a lot of places. It works for Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Antwerp, Copenhagen. People have now been calling me from Tokyo, Ho Chi Min City, Bombay, Budapest.

Jill: Well, that makes sense, because every major city has water, doesn’t it?

Koen:: Yeah, that’s why they’re cities! In the newspapers we are always preaching “the floating city has a future,” and then everybody say, ah, I don’t know. Then when we show them Amsterdam, for instance, Amsterdam has more water than Venice. The whole city is made up of tiny islands on piles. There are thousands and thousands in Amsterdam, because it’s such a bad soil. If you look at Venice, the whole city is a static city. If they could have built it on a floating foundation just a few years ago, then the whole city would go up and down with the water, instead of constantly having to be drained.

Koen:: The most interesting city for us right now is Dubai. There’s amazing investment going into the waterfront right now, and it’s the first place where people are actually designing and building right in the water. We were asked to design a water taxi, and when we showed them that design they liked it so much that they wanted more. Now we are working on structures for part of the Palm resort and also this floating mosque. That will be for the Waterfront area.

ill: Do you have anything in the U.S. in the works?

Koen:: No. It’s very hard to get plans realized in the United States. They’re very protective. Even for New Orleans. We have to find people already doing the work and then help them as a co-architect. But it’s not possible to get your own assignment over there. It’s really strange, because in other countries, such as Canada and England or Australia, we’re welcome. We can bring ideas in and get assignments. But the U.S. is a little bit protective of the market. And I think they should open up a little bit.

Jill: From what I can see in New Orleans, they could certainly use the help!

Koen:: Yeah. In the states, the problem is if there’s a big disaster like Katrina, then all the media totally focuses on that problem. And everbody gets really excited and says, “Okay, we’ve got to solve this.” But then a few months later, nothing has happened. And then the problem is no longer the focus of the media, and it’s back to the same old, waiting for the next disaster….

What you should do is make a real plan and do it a new way. Because when you get an innovative idea, the innovation brings in new economical possibilities. For example, we’re not a company who can have industrialized factories because labor is very expensive over here. But due to high standard of technical innovation we have here, we can sell our ideas and our expertise around the world. And it should be the same for the United States, in which labor is also very expensive, but innovation and technology standards are high.

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Nederlander ontwerp orkaan bestendige woonboot 3.0 a twee miljoen dollar

Mooi om te zien hoe verschillend objecten worden genoemd, afhankelijk van de locatie het object zijn plek vindt. Zo noemen wij hier in Nederland een huis op het water gewoon een woonboot, maar in Amerika noemen ze het een ‘Luxury Floating Home’. Wat jullie willen, maar wij blijven het gewoon een woonboot noemen! Toch hebben deze luxe woonboten een nogal Nederlands tintje, omdat ze zijn ontworpen door Koen Olthuis. De beste man is een waar genie als het aankomt op wonen op water. Mocht je daar meer over willen weten, dan vind je onderaan dit artikel een toffe Tedx Talk met Koen.

Omdat Amerika en de Caraïben eigenlijk altijd wel getroffen worden door orkanen, heeft Koen gekeken hoe hij huizen kan ontwerpen die hiertegen kunnen. Zijn oplossing is simpel: bouw ze óp het water. Samen met de startup Arkup heeft Koen huizen ontworpen die tegen categorie 4 stormen kunnen. Olthuis en Arkup noemen de huizen zelf ‘livable yachts’, omdat ze ook zijn uitgerust met een motor om eventueel naar een veiligere plek te varen. Wij zijn in ieder geval behoorlijk onder de indruk van het gedurfde ontwerp.


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Floating homes that can withstand Category 4 hurricanes will soon become a reality

As Hurricane Florence makes it way across the Carolinas, millions of coastal residents have reason to be concerned about the structural integrity of their homes. Already, nearly 300,000 homes and businesses have lost power, and officials are reporting damage to property in Onslow County, North Carolina.

When Hurricane Harvey swept Texas last September, it damaged more than 204,000 homes and apartment buildings. Around the same time, Hurricane Irma destroyed a quarter of the homes in the Florida Keys, according to federal officials.

While the idea of a hurricane-proof home may sound far-fetched, a housing startup called Arkup has created a residence that can withstand rising sea levels and Category 4 hurricanes. The key lies in its hydraulic while lifting it 40 feet above the ocean floor.

Arkup calls the residences “livable yachts” due to their buoyant nature, which allows them to bob with the water. After debuting the designs in 2017, the company teamed up with The Advantaged Yacht Charters & Sales, the oldest yacht charter company in Miami, to make the structures available for rent and purchase. In August, The Advantaged announced that it isaccepting charter reservations online.

The residences were designed by architect Koen Olthuis, who has pioneered the concept of the floating home.

Each 4,350-square-foot unit contains four bedrooms and four-and-a-half bathrooms.

The retail price for each home is $5 million.

The residences provide 360-degree views of the water.

They also have zero emissions and are powered by solar panels on the roof.

Guests can disconnect from sewage lines, thanks to a system that collects, stores, and purifies rainwater.

The units are just as mobile as a typical yacht.

Even as coastal residents become more fearful of rising sea levels, Olthuis wants cities to see water as an asset, not a challenge, to new construction.

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Die Neue Aqua-Kultur

Überall in der Welt haben Städte in den letzten Jahren irhre Wasserfronten aufgewertet, häufig indem sie zentrumsnahe Hafengebiete in neue Viertel umwandelten. In Aarhus wurde als erster Signalbau fur das Vorhaben, 25000 Bewohners auf den alten Kaianlagen anzusiedeln, der “Eisberg” von Julien De Smedt errichtet, eine spektakuläre Wohnanlage mit Bezug zum Meer.


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Les projets de villes du futur les plus fous

Et s’il y avait d’autres façons d’habiter la planète Terre? Voici quelques projets, plus ou moins avancés!

Avec une population mondiale qui ne cesse de croître, et des villes qui vont devenir de plus en plus denses, il faut trouver de la place pour des humains qui se préoccupent de plus en plus de leur environnement. Au point qu’ils rêvent de vivre en pleine nature, sans rien perdre des bienfaits de la technologie… Une gageure que relèvent pourtant nombre d’architectes avec des projets plus ou moins utopistes. Certains sont déjà sortis de terre, d’autres n’existent que sous forme de dessins, mais tous ont en commun de vouloir réconcilier tech et développement durable. Exemples.

Sea Tree, la mégapole flottante

A nouveau la mer, mais sans larguer les amarres. Conçue par le cabinet d’architecture néerlandais Waterstudio, et encore dans les cartons, Sea Tree est une construction en forme d’arbre de mer destinée à flotter le long des côtes qui bordent les grandes métropoles, comme New York ou Rio de Janeiro.

Bâtie suivant les technologies des plateformes pétrolières offshore, flottante et arrimée par des câbles, cette structure entièrement végétalisée abrite aux côtés d’espaces laissés à la vie sauvage des potagers verticaux et des terrasses plantées destinées à l’alimentation des citadins. Les Sea Tree ont aussi pour rôle de capter les émissions de carbone des mégapoles. Elles seront des refuges pour les animaux utiles à la vie urbaine, comme les oiseaux, les abeilles ou les chauves-souris insectivores. Gagnées sur la mer, les Sea Tree – qui peuvent être construites en de multiples exemplaires – permettraient d’agrandir les espaces naturels et sauvages des métropoles existantes en s’affranchissant de la pression foncière.

L’ Express, 1 august 2018, Par Jean-Luc Barberi et Laurent Martinet

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Are Blue Cities a future of urban life?

Evolve Arena


The ocean might be the prime real estate of the future cities. This is what Equinor Innovation Team is set to explore in a series of expert workshops on the topic of floating cities.

The idea to explore Floating Cities at Evolve Arena in 2018 was initially brought by Anastasia Malafey, project leader at Evolve Arena in the meeting with Margaret Mistry, Strategy & Innovation projects leader at Equinor Innovation Team. Their common understanding that this can create new business applications and solve global urban development problem made them continue the dialog and turn discussion into action.

— For Equinor, the ocean space has been a massive source of value creation and competence building. Over the past 40 years, we have become the biggest offshore operator, we know marine operations, and we are a world leader on floating wind turbine farm market. Far from shore is where we feel close to home, says Anders Hegner Hærland, vice president at Equinor Innovation Team.

Is blue cities the future of urban life?

Equinor, formerly Statoil, have established Equinor Inovation Team to look into new business opportunities for the traditional oil and gas company. Its role is to explore and mature radical ideas and business model innovation. With a legacy stretching more than four decades back, Equinor, former Statoil, have drilled, built and run project both far out and deep into the sea. With high end skill, competence and a worldwide network of suppliers, Equinor is one of the companies most suited for being a major player in the arena of building the future of floating cities.

To kickstart a phase of exploration and learning Equior have invited companies, architects, engineers, urbanists and visionaries to a series of workshops. The workshops are facilitated by Xynteo and will be held in Equinors offices on Fornebu outside Oslo and other sites. The sessions are also live broadcasted to off-site participants.

— Building on our experience of the ocean as a commercial space, it still feels like a big step to the inspiring vision of Floating Cities. To most people, it might seem like a distant idea, but today major cities are running out of space to grow. Infrastructure is overloaded and quality of life for inhabitants diminished, Anders Hegner Hærland explains.

— The phase we are embarking on now is the exploration phase, says Margaret Mistry, Strategy & Innovation Projects Leader in Equinor Innovation Team.

— Evolve Team is grateful to see the high level of engagement and interest from Equinor Innovation Team, Xynteo and all partners involved. Now it is time for Equinor to step out of its comfort zone and become a spearhead and leading force toward new alternative applications of its competence and experience in solving major global challenges. We believe this explorational sessions and event at Evolve Arena give us unique opportunity to connect innovators, creative minds and industries and build clear momentum toward sustainable society, says Anastasia Malafey, project leader Evolve Arena.

— It’s an invitation to join us in exploring these possibilities together. Our conviction is that the technology, the commercial ideas, and the other ingredients for making floating cities a reality are within our grasp. But realizing them will require more than any one company can achieve alone. So we must begin with dialogue and collaboration, Margaret Mistry explains.

Floating cities represent a huge potential for urban development, food production, energy generation and minerals extraction on and under the water nearby coastal cities.

Is blue cities the future of urban life?

The first keynote speaker kickstarting the sessions is Koen Olthuis, visionary architect and CEO of Waterstudio, a dutch architectural firm that is set to develop solutions to the problems posed by urbanization and climate change. Olthuis compares the future of floating cities with smartphones populated with apps.

— Why can’t we use the cities like we use the smartphone? Why can’t we have floating buildings with different functions that we can move in and out as we need them — like floating city apps.

Olthuis elaborate how we can see projects as a service. Like for instance the Olympics, why do we build large stadiums and other facilities that is only used for a few weeks during the games? Why can’t we see expensive buildings like a floating stadium as a global asset that can be moved wherever the games are arranged? Qatar has already plans for renting huge cruise ships and connect them to a floating harbour and use them as hotels during the Olympic Games.

Blue Tech for Blue Cities
Building on water, done correctly, can also have huge environmental impact
Olthuis calls it blue tech for blue cities focusing on energy reduction, energy production and energy storage. As an example he mentions a breakwater project in New York that Waterstudio contributed in where huge rotating pillars serves both as breakwater, providing shelter and safe harbourage, as well as a dynamo, generating renewable energy.

Floating solar panels is another field of focus, as the global benefit of moveable panels would have enormous impact, and be of great value where electricity is needed.

Is blue cities the future of urban life?

Floating structures can also be beneficial for life at sea, both above and under the water. Olthuis have designed large steel structures based on existing offshore oil platforms. Built with layered floors with threes and plants above the water and aquatic plants under sea level, this can stimulate a wildlife oasis in urban areas.

Is blue cities the future of urban life?

— Oil companies have used these floating storage towers for years, we only gave them a new shape and function, Olthuis explaines.

To bring floating cities at scale we must move from pioneering, innovation and experimenting to standardization and regulations. At the same time we should take advantage of this phase of experimenting, because when things are standardized, the innovation will slow down, says Olthuis.

— Lack of regulation makes it simpler to experiment.

Olthuis emphasise that floating cities is not something that is happening in a science fiction future. Its happening now. There are several projects already in progress all over the world.

— Its not like we are building huge cities in the middle of the ocean. The first floating cities will be hybrid cities where part of the city is on the mainland and new facilities and functions are added on the water like an extension of the city. This kind of tech and mindset can change the structure of a city in a real short period of time.

In Desember Oslo will be the scene for a ground breaking exhibition and conference Evolve Arena on the theme of shaping the future of our cities. Equinor and Xynteo will host one of the side events workshops at the Evolve-conference.

Is blue cities the future of urban life?

— We will use the Evolve platform to host another creative work session with partners where we hope to emerge with a better understanding of where we can play a role and a unifying idea about the solutions that will bring affordable and viable floating cities a step closer to realisation, says Margaret Mistry.

Article deliver in collaboration with Björn Audunn Blöndal / PRESSWORKS

Cover picture: Floating harbor with cruice ships as temporary hotels by Koen Olthuis /WATERSTUDIO

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These Houses Have the Ultimate Water View

The New York Times
By Sam Lubell
May. 24, 2018


Floating villas in Dordrecht, the Netherlands, south of Rotterdam. Designed by Waterstudio.NL, the villas use heat exchange power and have extra-large foundations to create terraces and other outdoor spaces. Credit Miquel Gonzalez

Few places in the world are as married to the water as Venice. Not only has the Floating City replaced streets with canals and land with islands, but its buildings also sit on wooden piles, driven into the ground deep below the water. Like much of the sea-hugging world, the city is also facing an existential threat as the waters rise and its ground sinks.

The city’s art and architecture Biennales (the 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale starts on Saturday and runs through Nov. 11) have long reflected this simultaneously magical and dire condition, with exhibit after exhibit addressing sustainable architecture, climate change and rising seas.

Many have even drifted along Venice’s canals themselves, including Mike Bouchet’s (doomed) floating house; Croatia’s floating pavilion; Kunle Adeyemi’s floating school; Joana Vasconcelos’ floating artwork, Trafaria Praia; and Aldo Rossi’s floating Theater of the World.

As is so often the case, life is imitating art, and floating architecture is emerging as one of the built world’s most promising markets — for many of the reasons pinpointed at the Biennale.

“We see architects as spanning between infrastructural ideas and society,” said Yvonne Farrell, one of the Biennale’s directors, who posits that if architects can take a leading role on vital environmental issues through emerging technologies like floating buildings, then they can also help re-establish their primacy in the construction process.

“You cannot not deal with environmental issues if you’re an architect these days. It has to be an essential part of your value system,” added Shelley McNamara, who is also one of the directors. “We’re all connected. We have to find solutions where art and culture and industry can all find a way to survive.”

Architects, boat builders, developers and city planners worldwide are seizing on the opportunity as cities run out of space to build, tides continue to rise and demand for efficient construction spikes. They’re creating inventive designer homes and floating resorts, and even floating cities that can be prefabricated off site and simply floated into place.

“For many, floating is something new and adventurous,” said Max Funk, co-editor of “Rock the Boat: Boats, Cabins and Homes on the Water” (Gestalten, 2017). The book reveals an explosion of creativity in buoyant architecture, including an egg-shaped floating cabin in England, floating spas (with working saunas) in Finland and the United States, and floating geodesic domes in Slovenia.

“Having a floating home used to be something only for vacationers or the uber-wealthy,” Mr. Funk said. “Now more people are realizing they can do it. And with downsizing becoming a trend, it goes along with the idea that quality of life is more important than size.”

Claudius Schulze, whose floating art studio graces the cover of “Rock the Boat,” built his 32-foot-by-16-foot timber-sided box, coated in fiberglass resin, for about 20,000 euros (about $24,000) with the help of friends, including a structural engineer. It has state-of-the-art amenities like Wi-Fi, onboard water filtration and solar power. It has its own motor (technically making it a houseboat), and Mr. Schulze has used it in, and en route to, Amsterdam, Paris and Hamburg, Germany, mooring it in each location for about €200 a month.

“It really is the perfect studio space,” he said. “It has all the inspiration and little of the distraction.”

On Seattle’s Lake Union — which has hosted floating homes since the 1920s and now has more than 500 of them — William Donnelly has lived in a multilevel floating home designed by Vandeventer & Carlander architects for more than seven years.

“I enjoy smelling the water, hearing the water,” he said. “I love the idea that my home isn’t fixed to the land. It’s freeing.” It’s not all perfect — the lake is popular, and sometimes his tightly surrounded home feels like a fishbowl — but he said that he would never live on land again.

Thanks to such situations, and to the rise in the price of waterfront property, the market for floating architecture is growing in North America, said Allison Bethell, a real estate investor analyst at Newer homes and their slips are not cheap, but since the market is young and houses are limited in size, they are rarely as expensive as prime waterfront real estate.

Outside of Seattle, where houseboat construction is being curtailed because of the potential impact on local salmon populations, Ms. Bethell said, the most prominent areas in North America for floating homes are the San Francisco Bay Area; Vancouver, British Columbia; Key West, Fla.; and Portland, Ore.; where the number of floating homes has doubled since 2012.

The trend is also expanding rapidly in Asia and the Middle East, but it is furthest along in Europe, particularly in the Netherlands, which is mostly below sea level. Estimates report that the country now has more than 10,000 floating residents, none more densely packed than in Ijburg, a growing development of floating homes clustered off man-made islands on the eastern edge of Amsterdam.

Over 50 of these residences — featured in the 2014 U.K. Pavilion at the Venice Biennale — were designed by Marlies Rohmer Architects & Urbanists and developed by Amsterdam-based Monteflore. The simple, industrial-inspired homes, floating on concrete bases (the current norm) were fabricated in a factory and floated into place.

“Most of the world now lives in cities, and most cities are near water,” said Ton van Namen, managing director of Monteflore. He said his team was working on a floating development along the west coast of Wales, and had been approached by interested parties from China, Singapore, Hong Kong, the Philippines, and Dubai and Abu Dhabi of the United Arab Emirates.

Koen Olthuis, an architect from the Netherlands who founded Waterstudio.NL, one of more than a dozen European firms specializing in boutique buoyant homes, sees floating architecture as the future. He said he had built more than 150 floating residences in the last 15 years, including a group of floating villas in Dordrecht, south of Rotterdam, that use heat exchange power and have extra-large foundations to create terraces and other outdoor spaces.

Now he is increasing his repertoire as both a designer and a planning consultant for floating hotels, restaurants, stores, resorts and private islands, and even floating cities.

“Blue cities,” as he calls them, can be more flexible and eclectic, and respond faster to rapidly changing demands from society and industry.

“I’ve talked to many urban planners, and they all say the same thing — by the time a city’s plan is finished, it’s no longer in line with society.”

He has consulted with officials in Rotterdam, the Maldives, Ivory Coast and Saudi Arabia, on flood-safe construction, smoother regulations for floating architecture, and how to float needed facilities, like a harbor, into place when needed. He envisions floating museums and factories shared by nearby cities.

“Once the elevator was invented, the whole recipe for a city changed,” Mr. Olthuis said. “Now a similar thing is happening on the water.”

The transformation of the typical floating building is, like most things in Dubai, going ahead full steam — thanks in large part to the Finnish company Admares, whose chief executive, Mikael Hedberg, started as a shipbuilder and now merges land and sea-based construction technologies.

Admares in 2016 completed the Burj Al Arab Terrace, a 2.3-acre island, attached to the sail-like Burj Al Arab tower, containing pools, cabanas, sun loungers, and a restaurant and bar. It was built in a factory in Rauma, Finland, floated into place in six pieces and then driven into the seabed via piles.

Besides location, what especially draws clients, Mr. Hedberg says, is the fact that since structures can be built off-site, on-site construction time is cut way down. The Burj Al Arab Terrace was set onto piles and welded together in about three months, subverting a landfill process that can take up to three years.

And unlike construction on landfill, floating buildings and islands create minimal ecological disturbance. Often floating platforms and piles, like those at the Terrace, serve as habitats and valuable cover for marine life.

The rise of floating design — and issues related to both rising tides and sinking cities — are having a clear impact on land, where designers and officials contend with water whether they like it or not. In many ways, floating buildings serve as laboratories for our new environmental reality.

Mr. Olthuis has helped create a development in Utrecht, the Netherlands, where “amphibious” homes — sitting on buoyant concrete bases and tethered to supports — can float in the event of flooding. (The Los Angeles firm Morphosis created a similar system for its modular, foam-cored Float House in flood-prone New Orleans.) He is also developing hybrid structures that can float on the water and, through a jack system, sit on land, making them even more flexible to personal and urban change.

“Land itself is no longer fixed in the way we’ve traditionally seen,” said Kristen Hall, an urban designer at Perkins & Will, which is incorporating water-reactive solutions for its new Mission Rock development at San Francisco’s Mission Bay, like pile-supported buildings, streets and sidewalks, and flexible utilities. “The question is, how much do you plan for change and roll with the change, and how much do you try to resist the change?”


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Rise of the Blue City

Gif Im Focus

As an architect, you have designed floating structures and urban plans in relation to water. The Dutch have always fought against the water, but you are saying that we should rather live with the water. Your vision is that water will play a bigger role in the future of cities. So my first question is:

What is a city for you?
There are different ways of looking at a city. A sociologist will probably say a city is characterised by the way its citizens interact, and an ecologist would probably see the city as an environment with different habitats and species. As an architect, I see cities as a mix of three elements. Firstly, the specifics of the natural location, the DNA of the city. Secondly, the built-up environment, made up of buildings and infrastructure, i. e. the city’s hardware. And thirdly, the protocols,
which are a combination of the rules, regulations, traditions and culture of the community, which determine how the hardware in a city can be used.
All cities are not equal, and these three elements create a kind of balance or structure that determines the profile of a city. I think that the role of an architect should be to analyse city profiles, see their shortcomings and come up with new solutions of how to upgrade the performance of the city. This performance should
be measured in terms of how liveable the city is.

Can we not just grow further with the same system?
Today it is hard to imagine a city without revolutionary innovations that have become part of our normal lives, such as cars, electricity and the internet, which have all changed the profile of cities and the way we live. The introduction of electricity, mobility, lifts etc. has been a game changer, altering the functionality and liveability of cities. Steve Jobs said
in 1997: “A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” I think this also applies to urban innovation. We think that the concept of a city has reached its final stage, but we are just in a process of evolution. Urbanisation and climate change are having a great effect on the available space and put pressure on the capacity of urban functions in cities. Growing urban congestion, the rising cost of city housing and maintenance are only a few indicators of the difficulties static cities face in adapting to change. What I mean is that the demands of society change so fast that it is not possible for a city to respond immediately because of the nature of its static hardware. Its response time is too long.

How should we get ready for change?
Investments for the future must be made to keep cities running smoothly, but what if you do not know what tomorrow’s needs will be? Big investments in infrastructure can be useless tomorrow as technology changes the way we live or use space and facilities. The only way to resolve this dilemma is to start building for change. Charles Darwin said: “It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive but those who can best manage change.” Cities are living organisms, so they should change and create the potential to react to change. For this, they need to find space to grow, shorten response times and make rules and regulations more flexible so that new ideas can be adopted and implemented. Once an innovation has been adopted by a city and proven successful, it will eventually spread to other cities. The flexibility of its hardware and protocols will determine how long it takes for a city to adapt. The specific profile of a certain city could make implementation of new technology difficult. For example, it took Amsterdam 12 years to build one extra metro line in the mud. Compare that to building metro lines in solid ground in London, where the metro system was invented. To keep cities financially viable and maintain or improve their liveability, we should improve adaptability or start building for change, so to speak. Building for change can only work if you have a better idea of the needs of the city. The next revolution in cities will bring real-time interaction between the city and its users. This is the essence of a smart city. The smart city will change our cities from a stupid non-communicating structure to an interactive system that reacts to needs and data communicated by its inhabitants and users. A tailor-made system that will enhance efficiency and liveability. This leap in city evolution will make us look back in twenty years’ time and smile at the static, inefficient cities we used to live in.

What more can be done to keep our cities viable?
As viability depends on flexibility, and flexibility is in turn related to the availability of space, we need to look at cities through different eyes. We see built structures, but we should look at capacity and the extent to which functions are utilised. What I mean is that, if we could use buildings and functions more intensively, we would not necessarily need more buildings to respond to growing demand. There is an awful lot of dead space in the built environment of our cities. If you only look at how we use our homes. Many people have a spare room, kitchens are used for maybe 5 % of the day, bedrooms for 30 % and bathrooms for 10 %. Cars are used for 2 – 5 % of their lifespan and occupy parking spots for the other 95 %. Roads and power systems are designed to meet peak demand. We should use space more efficiently instead of having many functions that are only used for a small proportion of their capacity. The same applies to utilities, which produce more than we actually need for most of the time. To achieve this, we need to change the way we use these functions. By sharing space, making space more dynamic and using temporary spaces and functions, we could reduce the need for additional buildings. Instead of building more structures and raise density, I think we need to raise the efficiency of density.

Who will take the initiative in changing cities and raising the efficiency of density?
Upgrades of a city system will be initiated by existing players who control and provide services in a city. Revolutions and leaps mostly come the private sector. A new invention
can change the game and companies will build new business models around this. Examples we see everywhere include companies such as Uber and Airbnb, which have shaken up the existing static system of taxis and hotels, and both have already had an effect on the efficiency of density. There are more beds and cars available without building more hotels or cars. For the smart city revolution, we have to closely follow tech companies such as IBM, Samsung, Microsoft, Panasonic, Erikson and Google, all of which are looking for testbeds of smart technologies in existing cities.

So, what new leaps can we expect?
Almost all major cities have water in some shape or form. This water has not yet been “optimised” for adaptable city development. This is not because of lack of technology, but because it is held back by protocol restrictions. Every innovation starts with a small experiment before it is implemented on a larger scale. I think that water is the secret ingredient of a next leap in the evolution of cities. You can see small initiatives in cities like Amsterdam, Miami, Dubai, where water – or what we call blue space – is used for floating housing, restaurants, resorts and offices. These initial concepts show a glimpse of how blue space could be used. Once we can break through the regulatory obstacles, we can unlock new territory, improve efficiency and create new flexible developments. With the use of blue space, the tools available to architects to adapt cities will change. Functions can easily be added or relocated, whenever necessary, within a very short response time. No city profile is perfect, and every change in demand necessitates constant adjustments to the built environment and its protocols. The city can be tuned if a certain number of functionalities are flexible in terms of location, quantity and cost. A blue city can be tuned to become
high-performing and efficient at any time. We believe that water will be the secret ingredient in meeting the challenge of balancing constantly changing needs with the static capacity of city functions. Blue cities will be less constricted by the lifespans of urban components.

What will be the effect of more development space being available on water?
Today we see that prices of real estate in Amsterdam are booming and the affordability of housing is going down. This will eventually determine who can still afford to live in the city centre. Any initiative to turn this negative trend around would be welcomed by politicians, who want to make housing more affordable. Space owned by the municipality can deliver new revenues for the community. A blue profile can loosen the grip developers have on land prices. For cities, the new credo will be “the wetter the better”. The unique opportunities and facilities, such as flexibility, space and safety, that water can add to the urban landscape will turn blue space into the new gold. Based on this assumption, we can determine which cities hold large bodies of water near the centre and predict their willingness and ability to adapt their protocols (rules and regulations) in order to make floating
developments possible and thus create opportunities for these cities to improve their performance. I think we may soon see the first signs of the rise of the blue city.

What kinds of new concepts will a blue city have in store for us in the future?
The evolution of new blue city models, in which cities take advantage of water to upgrade, will happen in small steps. With water as an additional tool in urban planning, the rules of the game will change. Projects will not necessarily remain static, as some of the products can be placed on water. They can then be relocated and reused in other locations. Functions are no longer limited to the functional lifespan of a particular place in town, but will be determined by their technical lifespan, located on water inside or outside the city. For example, a floating school or floating sports facilities can move with the neighbourhood’s needs for those functions. Buildings will interact better with the climate of a city. It is strange that many architects still build houses that are the same for severe winter conditions and for hot summers. I think we will have seasonal houses and neighbourhoods in the future, which will change their configuration and identity along with the changing seasons. Another new concept is “meantime” cities where neighbourhoods or functions can be placed in a location. They then have to make space for new uses when their economic value no longer matches the needs of the location. This means you will be able to make space for new developments in the centre of the city without having to demolish buildings that are still functional. You just replace, re-use and re-organise to suit your needs. A common feature will be city apps – small temporary floating functions that can meet a specific need or solve a specific problem in a location: temporary parking places, floating sports facilities for a big event or temporary floating affordable housing for students. As green space is under pressure in expanding cities, we will see green spaces appear in blue cities. Floating habitats, floating forests, floating parks can all have a positive effect on the environment of a city. There will also be greater interaction between cities. The rise of the blue city is not only about changing the type of hardware the city deploys but also about greater efficiency of two or more cities working together. The next step towards greater flexibility is the cooperation between cities that share protocols (rules and regulations) and mobile assets. It will be possible to build a floating museum and share it between cities. You will no longer have to go to a specific city to see a museum, but the museum will come to you. The sharing industry transcends products and services and enters the world of urban components. Blue city profiles will allow for joint ownership and an economy in which major city functions, facilities and components can be shared. Just a few decades ago, you would have been born in a specific city and worked, lived and died there. Today the young generation of millennials can choose the city that provides them with the best opportunities. As cities will be judged and compared on the basis of liveability, competition between them will increase. Cities need to upgrade their performance and branding in order to attract the best inhabitants. We could even see battles between cities in their attempts to lure potential millennials. Adaptable cities that take advantage of water will not only survive but also thrive!


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Der Meeresspiegel steigt – na und?

Im Manager
By Roswitha Loibl
May.08 2018


Auf dem Wasser ist viel Platz, viel mehr als auf dem Land. Warum also nicht dort Häuser bauen, Parks, ganze Wohnviertel oder auch ein Fußballstadion? Die Projekte werden immer zahlreicher.

Die Russen haben kürzlich ein schwimmendes Atomkraftwerk auf die Reise nach Murmansk geschickt, die Chinesen arbeiten ebenfalls an solchen entwurzelten Großbauten. Da nehmen sich die Projekte, die bisher auf schwankenden Bauplätzen realisiert wurden, ziemlich zwergenhaft aus. Ihre Breitenwirkung ist dennoch größer.

Architekturbüros vor allem aus den Niederlanden haben sich darauf spezialisiert. Sie lösen nicht nur die Flächenprobleme, sondern zudem kann ihnen ein steigender Meeresspiegel nichts anhaben. Pfahlbauten über den Fluten sind, historisch und geografisch gesehen, kein neues Phänomen. Wer einmal im vietnamesischen Mekong-Delta unterwegs war, hat viele davon gesehen. Aber die heutige Wasser-Architektur bietet neue Ideen und mehr Luxus.

Etliche dieser Häuser existieren bereits. Im Amsterdamer Stadtviertel Ijburg gibt es eine ganze Siedlung mit 165 Wohnhäusern, deren Basis jeweils eine schwimmende Betonwanne bildet. Sie sind so an Stahlpfosten befestigt, dass sie mit dem Wasserpegel nach oben und unten gleiten können. 36 davon wurden vom Architekturbüro Waterstudio und seinem Chef Koen Olthuis erdacht, der sich auf Wasserbauten spezialisiert hat. Billig sind Bauplätze auf dem Wasser nicht. In den Niederlanden kann eine „Parzelle“ rund 200.000 Euro kosten – und der Preis für das Haus kommt noch obendrauf.

Auch auf den Malediven, im Libanon oder den Arabischen Emiraten lassen Architekten ihre Objekte künftig treiben. Bei diesen luxuriösen Konstruktionen kommt – anders als bei den schwimmenden Ferienhäusern, die beispielsweise an der Ostsee angeboten werden – kein Gedanke an ein Hausboot auf.

Mobiles Olympiastadion geht auf Reisen 
Koen Olthuis geht aber noch weiter. Für einen Yachthafen im Hudson River (New York) hat sein Büro einen Mole ersonnen, die Energie erzeugt: Sie ruht auf drehbaren Säulen, die als Turbinen funktionieren und durch die Bewegung des Wassers Strom produzieren. In den Arabischen Emiraten könnten eines Tages kleine Inseln mit Solarmodulen ins Meer gesetzt werden, die durch das 27 Grad warme Wasser genau die richtige Umgebungstemperatur vorfinden. An Land würde es ihnen zu heiß.

Nicht nur Platz sparen, sondern auch Ressourcen schonen – dafür gibt es ebenfalls Ideen. Zum Beispiel ein schwimmendes Sportstadion, das sich für olympische Spiele anbietet. Es könnte für die Dauer des Wettbewerbs geleast werden und danach weiterschwimmen zu einem anderen Ort in der Welt. Nach demselben Prinzip funktioniert ein Projekt, das für Dubai entworfen wurde, sich aber auch für Katar eignen würde: Bei der Fußball-WM 2022 könnten die Gäste nicht in neu gebauten Hotels, sondern auf Kreuzfahrtschiffen nächtigen. Das Problem ist allerdings, dass der existierende Hafen nicht genug Liegeplätze bietet. Also könnte das schwimmende Terminal, das Waterstudio entworfen hat, eine Lösung bieten.

Schwimmende Insel muss liegen bleiben
Die größten Schwierigkeiten der schwimmenden Bauten sind nicht technischer Natur. Wie Architekt Koen Olthuis bei der Jubiläumsveranstaltung der Gesellschaft für immobilienwirtschaftliche Forschung (Gif) Ende April sagte, lassen sich Versicherungs- und rechtliche Fragen viel schwerer lösen – angefangen mit der Frage, ob sie „Immobilien“ sind. Er erzählte von einem europäischen Aussteiger, der sich in Mexiko eine schwimmende Insel baute, die auf Säcken voll leerer Plastikflaschen ruht. Nach einigen Jahren hatte sich darauf eine üppige Vegetation entwickelt. Der Europäer wollte nun seinen Wohnort wechseln und die Insel per Boot in ein anderes Land schleppen. Das untersagten die Mexikaner ihm mit der Begründung, die Insel sei mittlerweile mexikanisches Staatsgebiet geworden.

Autorin: Roswitha Loibl


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