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

Podcast: Maldives’ Floating City?

The Seasteading Institute, Joe Quirk, Nov 2015

Interview of Joe Quirk from the Seasteading Institute with Koen Olthuis about  Maldives’ floating cities.

Podcast: Maldives’ Floating City? Koen Olthuis of Waterstudio

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What if a nation sinking below sea level became the innovation hub for floating cities?
What if you could float the infrastructure of Holland to the slums of Bangladesh?
What if the future of floating cities is in 3D printed technology?

Dutch architect Koen Olthuis is the co-author of Float! Building on Water to Combat Urban Congestion and Climate Change with David Keuning. Koen founded Waterstudio which designs many components of floating cities, including schools, golf courses, hotels, and even stadiums, and he co-founded Dutch Docklands which plans gorgeous projects for the Maldives.  In 2007, Koen was chosen at Time Magazine‘s “most influential people of the year,” and the French magazine Terra Eco chose Koen in 2011 as one of the 100 greenest persons who will change the the world.

Koen Olthuis initiated a project to transform shipping containers into Floating City Apps to upgrade living conditions in coastal slums by providing “plug-and-play” schools, kitchens, health centers, internet cafes, and water purification units.

Should seasteads establish political independence first, and then change the world? Or should floating cities set humanitarian examples, win hearts and minds, and then seek independence? Koen and I discuss the strategies and agree to partner on a shared goal.

I hope you enjoy this discussion as much as I did. And if you subscribe to podcasts on iTunes, you can find this podcast and all of our other podcasts on our iTunes page.

Joe Quirk

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Koen Olthuis keynote speaker at amphibious conference

ICAADE 2015 First international conference on amphibious architecture, design & engineering

ICAADE 2015 is the very first International Conference on Amphibious Architecture, Design and Engineering.   Today’s cities are facing huge challenges.  They are confronted with increased and uncontrolled urbanization, higher risk of flooding, scarcity of water for industry, households and ecosystems, rising pollution, ground subsidence, and climate change.  These trends will have large consequences for the way we design our cities, neighborhoods and buildings.

Recent experiences have shown that amphibious architecture is gaining prominence in catalyzing the transformation of our future urban and rural landscapes to better deal with these challenges.   ICAADE 2015 will provide a forum for the presentation, discussion and sharing of research, knowledge and practical experience governing all relevant aspects of this emerging topic.

The objective of the conference is to promote interaction among   architects, planners, builders,  researchers,  engineers, and participants from government and industry, representing a broad range of disciplines such as water management, urban and landscape design, hydraulic engineering, social sciences, humanities, building construction, education and health, and experts from such fields as commerce, policy, information systems, and knowledge management.  The conference promises to stimulate thought-provoking debates on amphibious architecture, design and engineering as well as on flood resilience in infrastructure systems and communities affected by flood disasters, and on controversial policy issues.  We will welcome delegates from both developing as well as industrialized countries, and we are keen to attract students.

ICAADE 2015 will be held in Bangkok, Thailand, on August 26-29, 2015.  A student design workshop will be held prior to the conference, and several post-conference tour options will be available.

WHAT IS AMPHIBIOUS ARCHITECTURE?
Amphibious architecture refers to an alternative flood mitigation strategy that allows an otherwise-ordinary structure to float on the surface of rising floodwater rather than succumb to inundation. An amphibious foundation retains a home’s connection to the ground by resting firmly on the earth under usual circumstances, yet it allows a house to float as high as necessary when flooding occurs. A buoyancy system beneath the house displaces water to provide flotation as needed, and a vertical guidance system allows the rising and falling house to return to exactly the same place upon descent. Amphibious architecture is a flood mitigation strategy that works in synchrony with a floodprone region’s natural cycles of flooding, rather than attempting to obstruct them.

Amphibious construction may also refer to one of several “hybrid” conditions. One such is where the weight of a structure is partially supported by both land and water simultaneously, i.e. where gravity loads are shared by a buoyant substructure and structural elements bearing directly on the solid ground below the water. Another situation is where a mechanical system such as jacks or hydraulic pumps is used to elevate the structure temporarily. A third condition is a “wetproofing” strategy, whereby residents occupy the first floor during dry seasons and move to an upper storey during periods of flooding.

Amphibious design also includes the concepts of land use planning, site selection, community resilience issues such as the place of amphibious buildings in multiple-lines-of-defense systems, and policy considerations.

Amphibious engineering addresses issues such as infrastructure, mechanical systems and utilities, system components and selection criteria, and codification and certification concerns.

Living Above and Below the Water

The New York Times, Christopher F. Schuetze, April 2015

Living Above and Below the Water’s Surface in Amsterdam

By CHRISTOPHER F. SCHUETZEAPRIL 23, 2015

Floating houses built on man-made islands make up the new neighborhood of IJburg in Amsterdam. Center, the home of Monique Spierenburg and Kees Harschel, whose seven-meter sailboat is docked right next to the living room. CreditFriso Spoelstra, Boat People of Amsterdam, Lemniscaat, 2013
AMSTERDAM — When asked about his three-story floating house in a gleaming new part of Amsterdam, Kees Harschel, a 65-year-old native Amsterdammer, likes to compare his living situation to winning the lottery.

“This house fits us like a second skin,” said Mr. Harschel, a retired physical education teacher, sitting in his dining room on the ground — or in this case water-level — floor of the house he has shared with his wife, Monique Spierenburg, since the couple had it built seven years ago.

In Mr. Harschel’s case, the comparison with a game of chance is more than just pride of ownership: To become part of the community of 36 houses floating on an artificial lake on Steigereiland, one of several man-made islands that make up the burgeoning new neighborhood of IJburg, Mr. Harschel competed with more than 400 applicants.

“My wife said: Go on, gamble — you won’t win anything, so try it,” said Mr. Harschel, who lived in a house on the Amstel river before moving to IJburg. But winning a spot in the small community — which the couple did in 2007 — was just the first step in a journey that would include hiring a renowned architect and battling the bureaucratic wrangling that comes with being a building pioneer in Europe.

The result is an expression both of one couple’s love of the water and of innovative living for which the Dutch — long known for their centuries-old ornate houses — are garnering an international reputation.

IJburg, home to about 20,000 people currently, is expected to eventually house 45,000. It has been rising over the past decade on a succession of artificial islands to the southeast of the city center, conceived to ease a chronic housing shortage. The area attracts many young families and professionals who, with a newly built tram line, can be in the heart of Amsterdam in 10 minutes.

The city has taken care to create a mixed community, with mansions, social housing and both market-rate and fixed-rent apartments, all sharing courtyards, public squares, parks, shopping centers and canals.

And while the 36 houses in Mr. Harschel and Ms. Spierenburg’s part of the neighborhood are all individually designed and built, those across the lake are by a single developer. Some are rented and some are owned by their inhabitants.

The couple’s house, which is nine meters, or 30 feet, high, rises just seven and a half meters above the water surface (the submerged 1.5 meters is part of the fully functional bottom floor) and is seven meters wide and 10 meters deep. (The width of the house is set by the size of the lock connecting the IJmeer to the little lake that would become its home.) Over all, the design accommodates 175 square meters of total floor space, or 1,880 square feet, with a 35-square-meter roof terrace.

The interior is the essence of Dutch simplicity. The main floor has a kitchen and dining room, where the couple do most of their socializing. Vast windows ensure the interior is flooded with diffuse reflected light and offer views of the IJmeer and the rest of the floating neighborhood.

The top floor is divided between an indoor living room and an outdoor patio. When the doors are open in the summer, the space becomes one, evoking architecture from much warmer climates.

Built to suit the couple, the basement includes two bedrooms, a master bathroom, an infrared sauna, a study and, according to Mr. Harschel, one of the most important rooms in the house: a two-and-a-half-square-meter woodworking and repair shop.

Although the house feels like a normal house, it is actually floating on its concrete basement foundation. (Power, water and other services are supplied via the fixed dock, which also acts as the land access, installed and maintained by the city.) Eye-level windows in the basement afford just-over-surface views.

Its unusual construction allowed the house to be built miles away from where it now floats, and if Amsterdam’s building code did not forbid it, the owners could simply take it with them when they moved.

“I’m a sailor,” said Mr. Harschel, who pilots saloon boats — canal boats often used for private day trips — around Amsterdam. His seven-meter Thalamus Working Boat is docked right next to the living room.

“On summer evenings we can just take some beer, wine and toast and have dinner out on the water,” said Mr. Harschel, who last summer sailed to the south of England, departing from and returning to the side of his house.

On the rare occasion when the lake freezes over, Ms. Spierenburg straps on her speed skates and takes to the ice without having to leave her house to reach the rink.

“It is much more a gateway to freedom than it is just a place to live,” said Koen Olthuis, who designed this house and whose architectural office, Waterstudio, specializes in designing floating buildings all over the world. “Skating around the house, swimming around your house — it’s marvelous.”

Both owner and architect concede that being one of the first houses on the pier came with costs.

“They paid a bit for the things we learned,” said Mr. Olthuis, explaining that the pioneering families did pay — in money, time and frustration — for what the city was learning about urban planning on water.

“It was a book this thick, but we were free,” joked Mr. Harschel, waving an imaginary building code volume.

Mr. Olthuis noted that the house had been built following code for land houses, which, in keeping with a mandate to build greener houses in the Netherlands, stipulated triple-glazed windows, heavy insulation and even a heat exchanger to retain heat from effluent — something that most houseboats, which tend to be light houses on a heavy foundation, avoid.

Mr. Harschel estimates that the couple spent 350,000 euros, or $380,000, to build the house (the lease for the lot is €600 a month), and guesses that the value of the property has probably more than doubled in the years since it was built.

“These people living here are pioneers; they are willing to take a risk, they are willing to try stuff out,” said Mr. Olthuis. “They all have a very strong feeling of freedom. That’s why they came here.”

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Koen Olthuis speaks on BODW Hong Kong

His speech was very well received at Asia’s largest and leading annual event on design, innovations and brand

Koen Olthuis speaks on BODW Hong Kong
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Koen’s speech in the Culture and the City Session was very well received.

Business of Design Week (BODW) is a flagship event organised by Hong Kong Design Centre since 2002. Each year, BODW brings to Hong Kong some of the world’s most outstanding design masters and influential business figures to inspire the regional audience on creative thinking and design management. In addition, it also provides a valuable platform for participants to network, exchange ideas and explore business cooperation. Today, BODW enjoys the reputation as Asia’s leading annual event on design, innovation and brands.

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Inhabitat interviews Olthuis, Global Mobile Assets

Inhabitat, Bridgette Meinhold, July 2014

INHABITAT INTERVIEW: Water Architect Koen Olthuis on How to Embrace Rising Sea Levels

Sea levels are rising, floods are prevalent, and cities are at greater risk than ever due to climate change. Now that we’ve accepted these facts, it’s time to design and build more resilient structures. Koen Olthuis, one of the most forward-thinking and innovative architects out there, has a solution for rising sea levels. His solution: Embrace the water by incorporating it into our cities; creating resilient buildings and infrastructure that can handle extreme flooding, heavy rains, and higher water. Olthuis and his team at Waterstudio.nl have been showing coastal communities the benefits of building on the water. With countries like the Maldives and Kiribati having to build oceanside or move in order to escape rising sea levels, New York learning to battle storm surges, and Jakarta dealing with massive flooding, embracing water may be our only option for survival. We chatted with Olthuis about how coastal cities can become more resilient in the face of change—read on for our interview!

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