skip to Main Content
Architecture, urban planning and research in, on and next to water
+31 70 39 44 234     info@waterstudio.nl

Interview of the The New York Times with Koen Olthuis

CHRISTOPHER F. SCHUETZE NOV. 28, 2016

A Dutch Architect Offshores the Future of Housing

Floating houses in Amsterdam designed by Koen Olthuis. Mr. Olthuis’s architectural firm, Waterstudio, which he founded in 2003, has completed more than 200 floating homes and offices. CreditFriso Spoelstra/Waterstudio.nl
RIJSWIJK, The Netherlands — Early next year when a converted cargo container on a floating foundation of plastic bottles opens on the flood-prone shores of Korail Bosti, Bangladesh’s largest slum, few of its users are likely to celebrate the 320-square-foot space as a revolution. Yet, according to Koen Olthuis, the lead architect on the project, it is part of the greatest transformation in urbanism since Elisha Otis built the safety brake that gave rise to the modern elevator, skyscrapers and ultimately urban density.

“It will change the DNA of cities,” Mr. Olthuis said of the technology at the heart of his designs in an interview in his studio, a converted supermarket in this suburb of The Hague that also serves as his business headquarters.

In an era when the needs of growing urban centers are changing rapidly and rising sea levels threaten waterside construction, Mr. Olthuis has been busy working on a solution: the floating building.

Mr. Olthuis founded Waterstudio — which he describes as the first modern architecture firm to exclusively build floating houses — in 2003. More than a decade on, he and his team consider themselves pioneers in a growing movement. The firm has completed more than 200 floating homes and offices, many of them in the Netherlands, where several floating neighborhoods have sprung up in the last decade.

The team’s designs have gone global, with showcases ranging from exclusive floating islands in Dubai and the Maldives for the superrich, to more modest designer homes in Europe and the United States, to projects like the floating container, called City App, that will serve as an education center in the poorest neighborhoods in Asia.

A rendering of a floating private island that can be moved around to suit the owner’s desires.CreditWaterstudio.nl and Amillarah Private Islands
Mr. Olthuis was a candidate for Time Magazine’s list of the 100 most influential people in 2007, and he has been described as a visionary in the media. The BBC dubbed him the “Floating Dutchman” when featuring his plan to build a floating block in Naaldwijk, the Netherlands.

“He was really one of the first architects who saw that building on water could develop a whole new design language,” said Tracy Metz, an American journalist based in the Netherlands and a co-author of “Sweet & Salt: Water and the Dutch” (2012).

Although live-aboard boats and then houseboats have existed for centuries, the modern floating house is a relatively recent invention, with new materials and methods allowing for full-height construction without the loss of stability or the risk of intruding moisture.

The buildings are constructed on a floating foundation (sometimes stabilized by fixed stilts), which makes them flood-proof, affordable and independent of expensive real estate, although obtaining building permits can be tricky.

Perhaps most important for the slums of Dhaka, the units — which can house amenities like internet terminals, toilets and showers, large-scale water filtration, medical clinics, community kitchens and workshops — can be moved easily to where they are needed most.

 

Koen Olthuis CreditWaterstudio.nl

“If I were to build only floating islands for the wealthy, I would only make 150 happy people in the next 20 years,” said Mr. Olthuis, 45, who is the grandson of both an architect and a shipbuilder. “If we use this technology also to upgrade slums, we can change the lives of millions.”

As for most of Waterstudio’s other clients, the top draws are the crisp, elegant and open designs, the water views, and — for those with pockets deep enough — the optional private beaches.

The first units of his high-end Oceana project in Dubai are to be delivered next summer. For the project, Mr. Olthuis and Dutch Docklands, the development firm he co-owns, are designing and building 33 islands of 11,000 square feet that support custom-built villas of up to 5,500 square feet each, at an estimated total project cost of $170 million.

The villas themselves resemble smaller houses he has designed in the Netherlands. With open spaces and barely-there transitions between the indoors and the outdoors, his designs are airy, light and modern. The undersides of the islands are equipped with anchor points for marine life that resemble holds on artificial climbing walls, leading to a collaboration with Ocean Futures Society, established by Jean-Michel Cousteau, the son of the explorer Jacques Cousteau.

Christie’s real estate, which is acting as a broker for the units, notes that they can be transported around the globe. Depending on the level of customization and enhancements, the islands will sell for an estimated $5 million.

A rendering of City App, a floating cargo container that can be used to deliver essential services to areas in crisis. CreditWaterstudio.nl
For those on a tighter budget, Mr. Olthuis is set to help reconvert on-the-water living spaces in Weehawken, N.J., just south of the Lincoln Tunnel, on the Hudson River. The first phase of the project focuses on “livable yachts,” which are scheduled to go on the market late next year for slightly less than nearby condos, according to Steve Israel, the developer.

In Bangladesh, the City App aims to bring services to the most affected areas of a large and flood-prone slum. It is the first time Mr. Olthuis has brought his ideas to bear in development work and is almost entirely funded by a foundation he set up that receives funding from Dutch partners.

The floating structure that will pioneer the program was built this year in a yard in Helmond in the south of the Netherlands, nearly 5,000 miles from Dhaka, and features two rows of computers and benches. Four other models are now being built to bring other urgently needed services to Dhaka, although none of the units will consist of actual dwellings.

While he is mostly known in design circles for his open glass constructions, Mr. Olthuis sees a broader mission. He is also an academic member of the flood resilience group at Unesco-IHE in Delft, a water research institute.

In his version of the future, cities will make better use of their water surfaces. In some cases, they will have no choice. Mr. Olthuis envisions public buildings like schools, stadiums and even parks being moved to different waterside neighborhoods according to need.

“In 20 years,” he said, “cities are going to be different than today.”

Click here for the website

Koen Olthuis one of fifty innovators of the 21th century

Koen Olthuis selected as one of the Fifty Under Fifty innovators of our time. After a world-wide search of 50 top architecture and design firms by the editors, lead author Beverly Russell along with Eva Maddox and Farooq Ameen help bring together a unique body of work; all partners in these firms will be 50 years old or under at the time of publication, and represent a forward-thinking generation of creative people, aware of global issues that urgently need solutions through imaginative design.

A distinguished five-person jury presided over the final selection: Stanley Tigerman, founding partner, Tigerman McCurry, Chicago; Ralph Johnson, design principal, Perkins+Will, Chicago; Jeanne Gang, founder Gang Studio, Chicago; Marion Weiss, founding partner, WEISS/MANFREDI, New York; and Qingyun Ma, Dean of Architecture, University of Southern California, and founder MADA s.p.a.m., Shanghai and Beijing.

The innovators featured in this impressive volume share with us, and the world, their desires for exponential learning; designs are illuminated with full-color photography and detailed illustrations, helping to showcase the innovators’ individual curiosities, imaginations, and talents. This material shows how they bridge disciplines, respect cultural norms, respond to human needs regardless of costs, and how they adopt team transparency in their passion to create and solve problems with a clear mission.

This highly anticipated book showcases honorees located across many different countries, including Bangladesh, Belgium, Brazil, China, Germany, India, Ireland, Japan, Mexico, The Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Thailand, Turkey, and the United States. Significantly, a quarter of these innovators are women, representing the elevated leadership of women in architecture and design.ᅠ

Click here to read the article

Click here for the website

1st Scientific paper on researching wetslums was published

Slum Upgrading: Assessing the Importance of Location A plea for a spatial approach as an integral component; view online (free till Nov 1st)

Abstract

The world population is growing rapidly and much of that growth is happening in urban areas. In developing countries, this process is often accompanied by the formation and expansion of slums. A variety of slum upgrading projects have been implemented to improve the living conditions of slum dwellers however a wide study to investigate the objectives of slum upgrading projects highlighted that environmental features were of low priority compared to basic services and infrastructure. The paper deduces this to be a result of the dominance of UN’s household-based definition of slums which lacks emphasis on the locational aspects. An aerial analysis of slums located near waterbodies emphasised the slums’ dynamic nature brought about by location and therefore the importance of location itself. Taking cue from this, the paper recommends upgrading projects to be more location-specific that offer flexible yet customised solutions that build upon local knowledge to account for the dynamic and diverse nature of slums. Another inference from the study was that for various reasons – one of which is hazardous location – slums are perceived to be temporary and as a result, there is low incentive to invest in slums. Such a perception prohibits slum upgrading and pushes them into a negative spiral. Concluding that slums are, however, permanent features in the urban landscape, the paper recommends a change in perception and urges practitioners to accept this permanent nature of slums. The focus and findings of this paper are relevant in context of the Habitat III Conference in 2016 which has as its focus the ‘New Urban Agenda’ that recognises the ever-changing dynamics of human civilization and aims to bring together diverse urban actors to review urban and housing policies.

Click here for the website

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

Podcast: Play in new window

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

Click here to read the website

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

By Christopher F. Schuetze
The New York Times
April.23.2015

 

Living Above and Below the Water’s Surface in Amsterdam

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.”

Click here for the pdf
Click here for the website

Back To Top
×Close search
Search