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

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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Deze drijvende gebouwen van een architectenbureau uit Rijswijk zijn gemaakt van duizenden plastic flessen

Business Insider
Leanna Garfiel
April. 24 2018


Bangladesh is erg kwetsbaar. Omdat het land zo laaggelegen is en ook nog eens aan de monding van grote rivieren ligt, zijn er vaak overstromingen.

Elk jaar teisteren tropische stromen bovendien het land. In 2016 werd Bangladesh getroffen door vier orkanen, een record in de recente geschiedenis van het Aziatische land.

Door de stijgende zeespiegel kan volgens schattingen in 2050 tot wel 17 procent van het land onder water komen te staan. Daardoor moeten 18 miljoen mensen een nieuwe woonplek zoeken, aldus Atiq Rahman, de belangrijkste klimaatwetenschapper van het land.

Het Rijswijkse architectenbureau Waterstudio heeft mogelijk een oplossing voor dit probleem: drijvende gebouwen die tegen orkanen bestand zijn. Waterstudio levert eind november vijf van deze zogenoemde City Apps af in Dhaka, de hoofdstad van Bangladesh.

Waterstudio is van plan om vijf verplaatsbare ‘City Apps’ af te leveren in Korail, een sloppenwijk in Dhaka.

Foto: Een klaslokaal van City App in Amsterdam. Bron: Waterstudio

De City Apps kunnen voor verschillende toepassingen worden ingericht. Je kunt er een klaslokaal of medische kliniek van maken, maar de gebouwen zijn ook geschikt om in te wonen.

Overdag is dit drijvende gebouw een klaslokaal met 20 tablets en twee grote schermen waarop docenten iets kunnen laten zien. ‘s Avonds doet hetzelfde gebouw dienst als internetcafé.

 Bron: Waterstudio

De andere vier City Apps zullen worden ingezet als gemeenschappelijke keuken, openbaar toilet met douches en eentje met een noodgenerator voor elektriciteit. De benodigde energie komt van zonnepanelen op het dak.

Bron: Waterstudio

De gebouwen worden bevestigd aan de zeebodem en bewegen mee met het water. Zo zijn ze beter bestand tegen stormen. Ook zijn ze waterdicht, zodat het risico op overstroming is beperkt.

Bron: Waterstudio

De City Apps, die zo’n 43.000 euro per stuk kosten, zijn gebouwd in Amsterdam. Dat zei architect Koen Olthuis van Waterstudio tegen Business Insider.

Bron: Waterstudio

De fundering is gemaakt van houten pallets, draad en duizenden gerecyclede plastic flessen. Daardoor is het geheel drijvend.

Bron: Waterstudio

Waterstudio is opgericht in 2003 en staat bekend om de drijvende gebouwen die het ontwerpt. Wereldwijd heeft het architectenbureau meer dan 200 gebouwen op water neergezet, waaronder deze drijvende villa’s op IJburg, een woonwijk in het oosten van Amsterdam.

Bron: Waterstudio

Olthuis hoopt dat hij sloppenwijken in opkomende landen kan helpen met het City App-project, met name in landen die de gevolgen van klimaatverandering zullen merken.

Bron: Waterstudio

Waterstudio werkt samen met lokale projectontwikkelaars voor als ze meer City Apps af willen nemen.

“Sommige mensen wonen dicht bij het water, op kwetsbare plekken”, aldus Olthuis. “Met deze gebouwen kunnen ze hun leefomgeving verbeteren.”

Bron: Waterstudio

How floating architecture could help save cities from rising seas

by Kate Baggaley


From New York to Shanghai, coastal cities around the world are at risk from rising sea levels and unpredictable storm surges. But rather than simply building higher seawalls to hold back floodwaters, many builders and urban planners are turning to floating and amphibious architecture — and finding ways to adapt buildings to this new reality.

Some new buildings, including a number of homes in Amsterdam, are designed to float permanently on shorelines and waterways. Others feature special foundations that let them rest on solid ground or float on water when necessary. Projects range from simple retrofits for individual homes in flood zones to the construction of entire floating neighborhoods — and possibly even floating cities.

“It’s fundamentally for flood mitigation, but in our time of climate change where sea level is rising and weather events are becoming more severe, this is also an excellent adaptation strategy,” says Dr. Elizabeth English, an associate professor at the University of Waterloo School of Architecture in Ontario. “It takes whatever level of water is thrown at it in stride.”


From ground level, amphibious houses look like ordinary buildings. The key difference lies with their foundations, which function as a sort of raft when the water starts to rise.

In some cases, existing homes can be retrofitted with amphibious foundations to give people in flood-prone areas a less costly alternative to moving or putting their homes on stilts, says English, founder of Buoyant Foundation Project, a nonprofit based in Breaux Bridge, Louisiana and Cambridge, Ontario. “What I’m trying to do is to take existing communities and make them more resilient and give them an opportunity to continue to live in the place that they’re intimately connected to,” she says.

There are also new constructions built with amphibious foundations, such as a home designed by Baca Architects on an island in the River Thames in Marlow, England. When waters are low, the house rests on the ground like a conventional building; during floods, it floats on water that flows into a bathtub-shaped outer foundation.

Amphibious architecture isn’t about to displace conventionally designed buildings. But experts say it could become the norm in parts of Virginia, Louisiana, Alaska, and Florida, and other areas that are vulnerable to rising seas. “For some communities this might be a saving grace,” says Illya Azaroff, director of design at New York-based +LAB Architect PLLC and an associate professor of architecture at the New York City College of Technology.


Other architects are taking things a step further and building on the water itself. The Netherlands is a hotspot for such floating construction. Waterstudio, a Rijswijk-based architecture firm, recently designed nine floating homes for the town of Zeewolde. The homes look a bit like oversized floating houseboats.

Waterstudio has also designed a number of floating homes for Amsterdam’s IJBurg neighborhood. Soon these will be joined by a floating housing complex designed by the Dutch firm Barcode Architects and the Danish firm Bjarke Ingels Group. When construction is completed in 2020, the complex will have 380 apartments as well as floating gardens and a restaurant.

Floating buildings and neighborhoods are not a new idea, of course. Vietnam and Peru, among other countries, have had floating communities for centuries. But floating architecture could allow cities around the world to grow and evolve in new ways, says Waterstudio founder Koen Olthuis.

Olthius envisions cities with floating office buildings that can be detached and rearranged as needed. “It can be that you come back to a city after two or three years and some of your favorite buildings are in another location in that city,” he says, adding that buildings might be moved close together to conserve heat and separated when summer arrives.


Floating architecture can do more than prevent flood damage. By allowing the construction of buildings over water, it can give cities additional room to grow. Waterstudio is collaborating with developer Dutch Docklands on a planned community in the Maldives that will include 185 floating villas. The flower-shaped development will have restaurants, shops, and swimming pools.

The firms are also collaborating in the Maldives to build private artificial islands that will be anchored to the seafloor. The idea is to provide new places to live for residents of the low-lying islands, which are at risk of being swallowed up by rising seas. “We will let the commercial project show that the construction can work and then work with the government to help the local community,” Jasper Mulder, vice president of Dutch Docklands, told Travel + Leisure.


The islands are also meant to offer a sheltered new habitat for marine life.

There are also plans for entire floating cities. The Seasteading Institute, a San Francisco-based nonprofit, hopes to attract 200 to 300 residents for a floating village scheduled for completion in the waters off Tahiti by 2020. Homes and other buildings in the community will be constructed atop a dozen or so floating platforms connected by walkways. Eventually, the institute hopes to create communities built from hundreds of platforms with millions of residents.

“I don’t know if amphibious or floating architecture will go that far, but it is within the realm of possibility,” Azaroff says. “The overarching goal is to, one, keep people safe and, two, to allow the natural cycles to continue. Floating architecture allows you to do that in a really profound way that we didn’t have before.”

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How Floating Buildings Could Help Save Cities From Rising Seas

Floating architecture “takes whatever level of water is thrown at it in stride”

Rising sea levels are threatening coastal cities worldwide, and some architects and urban planners are looking to floating and amphibious buildings as a way to adapt, NBC News reported.

The may float on shorelines and waterways or alternate between floating and resting on solid ground. Waterstudio, an architecture firm from the southwest Netherlands, designed nine floating homes that look somewhat like big, floating houseboats, for the town of Zeewolde.

Another set of floating Waterstudio homes in Amsterdam will be joined by a floating housing complex, complete with restaurant and gardens, set to open in 2020.

“It’s fundamentally for flood mitigation, but in our time of climate change where sea level is rising and weather events are becoming more severe, this is also an excellent adaptation strategy,” said Elizabeth English, an associate professor at the University of Waterloo School of Architecture in Ontario, Canada, about floating architecture. “It takes whatever level of water is thrown at it in stride.”

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Come as you are

Müller Möbel


Space is becoming increasingly scarce in our densely built-up cities. Urban living therefore requires new architectural concepts as well as modularly designed furniture that saves space and flexibly meets the most diverse requirements.

Some people consider furniture purely as a commodity: a table is therefore a table, a chair is a chair and a cupboard is simply a cupboard. We think it can be a bit more. That‘s why we also see furniture as a problem solver. And as a source of ideas that suggest, for example, how to live happily in confined spaces. Almost legendary is our stacking bed by Rolf Heide, which can be stacked on top of each other in a simple and space-saving way and can be used as an extra guest bed if required. The modern classic made of laminated wood embodies our understanding of design in a special way: timeless, minimalist design, puristic materials and intelligent functionality that creates new perspectives for a wide range of situations in an uncomplicated manner. The same idea is also followed by the Konnex shelf system, designed by Florian Gross and awarded by the German Design Council, which can be constantly redesigned and organized with its innovative plug-in principle. Different numbers of individual boxes can be modularly added to an individual storage space. As a flexible solution for people who are mobile and always feel like change.

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Water World

Clad Magazine
2018 issue 1


When the Arctic Bath opens on the Lule River in Sweden next year, it will off er six cabins, a sauna, spa and restaurant, all of it surrounding an open-air cold bath. The structure will be surrounded by piled logs, a visually spectacular touch envisioned by architects Bertil Harström and Johan Kauppi. But what really sets this Nordic spa resort apart from others is the location: not just next to the river, but directly on top of it. In the summer, the spa will float on the river’s surface; in the winter, it will be frozen in place. Floating structures have been around for a long time. People have been living on houseboats for centuries in cities like Amsterdam, while in Hong Kong, thousands of people lived in massive floating villages as recently as the 1970s. Even today, the flying eaves and sultry neon of that city’s Jumbo Floating Restaurant evoke a particular kind of romance. Water has always promised a sort of freedom, too. A libertarian organisation called the Seasteading Institute is currently working on plans for autonomous fl oating cities that would roam international waters, allowing them to experiment with new forms of governance. In a world beset by rising sea levels, where technology and human behaviour seems to be changing faster than ever, a growing number of architects believe fl oating architecture could change the way we live.

“I think floating architecture is coming to a point where it’s an essential element to develop cities,” says architect Koen Olthuis, the founder of Dutch architecture practice Waterstudio. Since 2003, Olthuis has worked on floating houses, schools, resorts, swimming pools and other projects, all of them enabled by a proprietary fl oating base technology. Waterstudio recently doubled in size to 30 architects aft er it merged with British ‘aquatecture’ firm Baca Architects. Olthuis says cities can become more adaptable by embracing their waterways. “Imagine you’re doing the Olympics in Miami,” he says. “It costs you a lot of time and money, you’re building stadiums for all these European sports, but aft er the Olympics they aren’t being used anymore. There’s no soccer in Miami. So instead you could built floating stadiums, fl oating hotels and just lease them. You could have cultural events and museums that go from city to city. It’s a new way of thinking.” For the past few years, Olthuis has been working with the government of the Maldives to design these kinds of fl exible floating facilities. Think of them as modular city components that can be shuffled around according to need. The Maldives is a collection of Indian Ocean islands that are slowly being reclaimed by the sea. In the past, its officials have speculated that climate change may require the entire country to be relocated elsewhere, but Olthuis espouses a philosophy of living with water rather than trying to fight against it.

Some of his other projects include floating schools for low-income neighbourhoods in Dhaka, the flood-prone Bangladeshi capital. But in that case, as in many others, Olthuis has run up against restrictive building codes and regulations. “We’ve built six of these fl oating schools, but they’re still here in the harbour waiting to be taken to Dhaka because we can’t get the local authority to give a permit,” he says. “Our whole system is based on cities built from static elements.” So for now, floating architecture is still in the vanguard. But there are a growing number of examples around the world. Last year in Switzerland, British architect Tom Emerson designed the floating Pavilion of Reflections for the Manifesta 11 biennale, the roving European exhibition of contemporary art. The latticed wood structure served as the biennale’s focal point, with an outdoor cinema and event space with steps leading down to a public swimming pool. Bristol’s Arnolfini Centre for Contemporary Arts commissioned Brazilian artist Maria Thereza Alves and German designer Gitt a Gschwendtner to create a floating garden made from the ballast of historic ships, which can still be found in the city’s harbour. “The fact you’re literally disconnected from
land has an impact on your perceptions and perspective,” says Dutch architect Sikko Valk. “The moment your feet leave shore, you’re crossing a bridge over water, and there your break from the everyday routine begins. It’s quite symbolic.” Together with art director Remko Verhaagen, Valk designed the Good Hotel, which began life as a pop up social enterprise project on the waters of Amsterdam (it employs and trains long term unemployed locals). It is now floating at the Royal Victoria Dock in London. This wasn’t a new build – the hotel was originally a floating jail. “Given its original safeguarding purpose, in many ways this structure is built more robustly than most land-based buildings,” says Valk. The rooms are fairly small, because most of the internal walls are load-bearing, so the design team focused on making them inviting, with “warm and tactile” materials like rough carpets and wood panelling, says Valk. In the lobby and lounge areas, the designers were able to remove some walls in order to create large, open spaces. The eff ect is a long way from the traditional cloistered environment of a boat. “Where the corridors and rooms are cosy, we created the main public area to be open with sections that can be fl exibly set up,” says Verhaagen. After a year in Amsterdam, Good Hotel was hoisted onto a barge and ferried across the English Channel to London. It was a journey that took
quite a bit of preparation — the hotel weighs eight million kilograms — but it’s an example of the inherent mobility of floating structures.

That’s one of the main concepts behind wa_sauna, which plies the many waterways of Seattle. Launched by goCstudio in 2016, the minimalist plywood sauna sits on a 23-square-metre platform fitted with an electric trolling motor. “We licensed [it] as a registered vessel – this was one way we were able to have the structure on the water for use at any time without traditional permits,” says designer Aimee O’Carroll. “It seemed like a great fi t for Seatt le, a city which is surrounded by water and has a history of Scandinavian culture,” she says. Rather than find a client, the designers launched a crowdfunded campaign, and they now use the sauna for events. “It’s a respite in the middle of the water while remaining in the heart of the city,” says O’Carroll. “The lakes here remain usable throughout the year and provide the perfect cold plunge. Since it’s a self propelled vessel, the waterways which surround the city gave us a unique relationship to the urban environment.”

Water defines many of the world’s major cities – Hong Kong would never have been colonised if not for its harbour, London thrived because of the River Thames and the aquatic ingenuity of Venice once sustained a vast trading network. And yet the average citizen of these cities remains disconnected from their waterways. Like the wa_ sauna, a number of floating projects are designed to take advantage of this underutilised resource. In Florida, a new project by architect and engineer Carlo Ratti aims to create a partially submerged floating plaza along the redeveloped waterfront of West Palm Beach. “Our idea is to
off er views that extend over the waterline,” says Ratti, who is the founding partner of design firmCRA and the director of the MIT Senseable City Lab. He plans to achieve that by creating a plazza based on the double hull of a submarine. A system of water pumps will fill and empty an air-water chamber located below the surface of the water, which allows the platform to move up and down. “Sensors detect variations in height, so that the system responds accordingly. As a result, the platform hovers at the surface of the water – creating space by subtraction and presenting different view perspectives over the waterline.” This isn’t the first time Ratt has incorporated water into one of his projects. His design for the Digital Water Pavilion for the 2008 Zaragoza World Expo in Spain used digitally-controlled water walls to define the space. “I think that one of the most interesting aspects is to imagine a ‘fluid’ architecture that adapts to human need, rather than the other way around – a living, tailored space that is moulded to its inhabitants’
needs, characters, and desires,” he says. “Water is a reconfigurable material.” It’s not only configurable for human life. In the years since he opened Waterstudio, Koen Olthuis has come to realise that floating architecture can be a boon to marine life. “We analyse locations so we know what we can and can’t built there,” he says. One of his projects is called Blue Habitat “Those are fantastic artificial coral reefs which we can just connect underneath our structures. Then you are sitting inside your house and you can monitor it and change it.” There is still a curious reticence when it comes to floating architecture. “Even in Holland, where we live mostly under sea level, and water is all around us, large floating structures are still not really common,” says Sikko Valk. “It is in a way quite unexplored territory.”
Koen Olthuis expects that to change in the future. He has already sensed a shift in the priorities of the architects who come to work for him. “The architects that come to our offices are not like architects 15 years ago, who wanted to build extreme iconic architecture. They are architects who want to make a change,” he says.

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Breaking the waves, ancient Greek-style

Dutch-designed floating breakwater which doubles as an energy generator is modeled after the Parthenon

The Parthenon Seawall is a new suggestion for a floating breakwater which would protect harbours and coastlines from tidal force, turning it into electrical power.

In ancient Greek mythology, Olympian god Poseidon used his trident to master the sea; thousands of years later, the need to master the sea remains as pressing as ever and it is of little wonder that those facing the task looked to ancient Greece for inspiration. This is true of the innovative Netherlands-based architecture firm ‘Waterstudio’ led by Architect Koen Olthius and specialising in floating urban structures. The studio’s mission statement is “developing solutions to the problems posed by urbanization and climate change” and its latest creation, the Parthenon Seawall, is a floating breakwater that doubles as an energy generator, promises to do exactly that.

Waterstudio used New Yorks Hudson River to illustrate the Parthenon Seawall’s function.

As its name suggests, the Parthenon Seawall was designed to resemble the iconic temple of Athena, but despite its ancient esthetics, the structure’s columns have more to do with functionality and addressing specific needs in a modern-day urban setting. While normally breakwater structures are designed to disrupt waterflow and reduce the impact of waves, tides and currents, protecting coastlines, harbors and riverbeds from potential damage, the Parthenon Seawall goes a step – or more – further than just fighting the force of water – it lives with it and turns it into electrical power. The floating breakwater stems the crash of water pushing into a harbor, while at the same time harvesting the tremendous energy a wall of water like that can generate.

The Parthenon Seawall employs the “stacked pyramid” structure – the columns are comprised of cylinders that rotate – both clockwise and counter clockwise – at low speed, moving by the flow of water. The upper concrete platform is where the energy is stored, but Waterstudio designers suggest it can also be used as a riverfront, creating a space for greenery and recreation. Poseidon would be proud.

Neos Kosmos, 16 March 2018

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Are you ready to live in a floating urban structure?

Issue 1

In many cities all over the world, millions of people live near water, in poor, densely populated neighbourhoods, exposed to rising water levels and the increased risk of flooding.

To overcome the difficulties that these inhabitants face every day, the Dutch architect Waterstudio has developed City Apps, floating urban structures made from standard maritime containers.

The idea is to use the space available on the water with urban modules, made up of several containers that can easily be moved in the event of an emergency and to meet needs. Against the backdrop of adaptation to climate change, they make up for the shortcomings of city infrastructures by offering the most disadvantaged populations function-rich spaces. Every container can  become a place to eta, sleep, study, and grow vegetables… With backing from Unesco, the first City App should be installed in Dhaka, Bamgladesh, before the end of the year.

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Waterstudio published in “Floating Houses- Living over the water”

Floating Houses –  Living over the water

Two projects of Waterstudio are published in the book “Floating Houses –  Living over the water”.

Waterstudio.N L www.waterstudio.n1 Location: Amsterdam, The Netherlands Photos © Architect Koen Olthuis – Waterstudio.NL

Villa `Ijburg’ – plot 13

This design was done for an Amsterdam urban expansion site where one specific area was designated to have only floating houses. As with the other dwelling for this same area, limitations in the building outline were strict, forcing the design to be clear and powerful’ within these regulations. Pushing the regulations which only allowed half of the top storey to be used. This design quite literally took the complete rectangular outline of the building envelope as a frame in which transparent facades were placed. Within the frame the several functions were placed, defining where the glass paneling should be transparent or closed. The top storey still only occupies half of the floor surface, but the white frame now encloses the remaining outside terrace, visually completing the basic and almost austere volume. Within the frame, glass panels were used with several slightly different colours, adding some subtlety to the scheme.

The lower floor, which is partly beneath waterlevel. contains the bedroom, a bathroom with sauna, as well  as some storage and a study-rooms. On the ground  floor, where the entrance is situated, two blocks in  the layout create an, entrance hallway, and close off  the stairwell, leaving the rest of the surface almost  completely open. The blocks contain the toilet, storage  space, and kitchen equipment. The whole of the floor  is used as a large living-kitchen. On the upper floor the volume containing the living-room was given a curved outline, which give a little playfulness to the otherwise I is geometric appearance.

Waterstudio.N L Location: Amsterdam, The Netherlands Photos © Architect Koen Olthuis – Waterstudio.NL

Villa jjburg’ – plot 3

This plan was designed for an urban water-development area in Amsterdam. Strict limitations of the building envelope and 2,5 storeys,, while maximizing effective floor space for the principal, forced the designers to, come up with a strong architectural principle that organized the dwelling with only modest means. The location at the end of the pier, where the view should be focused on the water while shielding off the dwelling from adjacent houses, provided the initial starting point. The architectural concept comprises of two basic shapes, filled in with glass panels. The main volume is enveloped by a white stucco slab that runs along the le storey floor, covers the entire back wall and roof, forming a continuous line that frames the living area and the open view. This simple yet elegant shape is complemented by a second shape in wood formed by the terrace floor and curving up to form the banister. Together, these two simple gestures define a distinct, almost iconic appearance.

On the lower floor, which is partly below waterlevel, three bedrooms and the bathroom are situated. The ground floor is largely an open layout where only the toilet and some storage space separate the entrance area from the main space. Two large swinging doors can be used to close off the hallway. A neatly designed cupboard containing television is the only main element in the open space. Behind this, two stairs lead to the lower storey and to the working-area on the top floor. The ceiling of the living room is made in the same wood as the outside shape to really carry through the concept of the two curved shapes making up the dwelling.

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