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Architects look to floating cities as sea levels rise

By Edwin Heathcote
Financial Times
2019.june.5

Some argue that waterborne homes — and stadiums — could be a response to climate concerns

New York, London, Shanghai, Jakarta, Manila, Houston, Miami, Rio de Janeiro — all these cities and more are threatened by potential rises in sea level from climate change. Without dramatic action, in a century or less some of the world’s most expensive real estate could be under water. So it is unsurprising that architects and engineers are looking seriously at a future of floating cities. As often with water engineering, the Dutch are at the forefront. Living in a country which owes its existence to the struggle to find equilibrium with the sea, they are the pioneers of a small but increasingly important-looking architectural future. A short tram ride from central Amsterdam is IJburg, a well-planned suburb of decent housing and wide roads built on reclaimed land. At its edges the streets dissolve into jetties and houses sit on the water. One of the first large floating suburbs, it is an enticing vision of water living, with houses on concrete rafts and ducks swimming between. These are well-designed and built homes for city workers priced out of the centre of a city affected by gentrification, tourism and Airbnb-style rentals. Some houses are minimally modernist, others quirkily eccentric. Some look like suburban cottages on water, others like streamlined nautical hybrids, ready to sail away. One neighbourhood, Steigereiland, was built by architects Marlies Rohmer, an elegant Bauhaus dream of white walls, flat roofs, steel and glass. Could this be the future? Architect Koen Olthuis (“the Floating Dutchman”) has been at the forefront of floating design. “We love the water in Holland and we need to learn to see it as a tool,” he says. “I’ve seen floating architecture go from freak architecture to a real proposition. A hundred years ago the invention of the elevator allowed us to build vertically; now we need to understand water as an extra dimension for cities.” Mr Olthuis, whose Waterstudio practice has designed and built more than 200 floating buildings and who has plans for everything from entire cities to a football stadium, calls the floating metropolis a “blue city” and sees a four-stage process in its development. “They start in the city,” he says, “on the waterfront, where there is an established real estate market. Then they go into the sea but are still connected to the land via their energy and sewerage et cetera — which is an alternative to expensive land reclamation. The third phase is going into the sea, 1km into the water, but still connected, and the fourth is the self-supporting city in the sea with all its energy generated in the ocean.” What is the point of that? “I don’t know,” he laughs, “but rich people love the idea — an unregulated haven!” “We have 2bn people threatened by floods, these problems are in the cities right now.” Is this really a realistic solution to problems of urban overcrowding and resilience? “The big guys [the ‘starchitects’] are now showing idealistic cities in the ocean.” These are fantasies, he says, “but we have to group together as architects to make realistic proposals”. Mr Olthuis also worked on the Arkup, a “liveable yacht” launched last year in Miami. A luxury house with hydraulic legs which can be lowered to the seabed, it has solar power, desalination and a motor. He is also working on structures for the world’s slums, building a mobile platform in Bangladesh which uses waste plastic bottles for buoyancy. These will house toilets, internet stations, communal kitchens and other facilities. Floating architecture’s recent history has not all been plain sailing. Nigerian architect Kunlé Adeyemi designed the Makoko floating school for a Lagos slum. It looked like the perfect project — worthy, elegant and innovative — but it was destroyed by a storm. The idea of a mobile floating architecture is among the more promising futures. Mr Olthuis has even designed a sports stadium. “A football stadium could be leased by a city,” he says. “Why spend all that money? Rent it, like a car.” Architect Alex de Rijke also raises flexibility. “Cities have master plans but plans change and one of their failures is their inability to adapt,” he says. “A floating city could be endlessly reconfigured.” His practice dRMM’s plans for a “Floatopolis” in London’s Docklands show a city of multistorey structures. It went from research project to possible commission but was not built. “The world’s cities are full of post-industrial waterfronts,” Mr de Rijke says. “We were looking at how you create a community, with schools, shops and most importantly density. “We have overpriced land in London, a restrictive planning system and the paradox of a low-density city.” The floating city idea, says Mr de Rijke, goes in a cycle of fashion, “like the tide coming in and going out”. It is a relatively expensive way to build, with prefabricated concrete rafts and high-specification components. But in big cities or densely populated countries such as the Netherlands or UK, where land is expensive, it can be an economical solution. As the technologies become more mainstream, costs will fall. Of course, city centre waterways are a finite resource — but they may be becoming much less finite soon. The tide is coming in.

 

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How floating architecture could help save cities from rising seas

By Kate Baggaley
NBC

 

 

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.”

NEW KIND OF FLOOD READINESS

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.

FLOATING HOMES

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.

SPREADING OUT

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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A Future Afloat

By Erik Bojnansky,  BT Senior Writer
Biscayne Times
volume 15 issue 1
Photo Credits: Waterstudio

IT MAY SOUND CRAZY TODAY, BUT DESIGNERS AND ENGINEERS AROUND THE WORLD ARE ALREADY EMBRACING LIFE ON THE WATER

For more than 14 years, Dutch architect Koen Olthuis has been designing buildings that float. His portfolio includes the construction of 200 floating homes and offices in the Netherlands.

Later this year, luxurious floating islands designed by his Rijswijk­based architecture firm, Waterstudio, will be shipped from the Netherlands to Dubai and the Maldives. Olthuis is also experimenting with floating computer classrooms and other facilities called City Apps that he hopes will soon be transported to flood­prone Bangladesh. And he’s in contact with a New Jersey developer who wants to transform the Lincoln Harbor Yacht Marina into a floating residential community with views of the Manhattan skyline.

Olthuis has other ambitious ideas, too. On his architecture firm’s website, www.Waterstudio.nl, you’ll find plans for floating apartment buildings, floating restaurants, floating hotels, floating cruise ship terminals, floating places of worship, floating beaches, floating golf courses, floating “sea trees” for animals, floating facilities (City Apps) for flooded slums, and floating islands for  he very wealthy.

“When we started in 2003, we were the only office that was 100 percent into floating structures,” says Olthuis. “Everybody said we were crazy. But we saw the market, and today there are many, many architects working on floating structures in Holland and in Europe. It has become more mainstream.”

Olthuis also wants to bring his designs to Miami’s urban areas and show that water, especially in the form of rising sea levels, doesn’t have to be an obstacle to future development. It can be an asset.

“The reason I’m an architect is that our cities are not perfect. They don’t function as well as they should,” says Olthuis, who floats his structures on concrete box foundations filled with Styrofoam. “I think that water is the next ingredient to improve the performance of cities.”

Rising seas pose a major threat to Greater Miami. Within the next 80 years, climate change may result in ocean levels that are up to seven feet higher than today, washing out huge sections of flat Florida. But Olthuis feels his floating structures can literally rise to the challenges that tides could bring in the coming decades. And for the present, he argues, floating neighborhoods can provide greater flexibility for urban planners, especially in places like Miami and Manhattan, where vacant land is scarce and expensive.

So far, Miami has not taken well to his plans. His idea to create a floating Major League Soccer stadium for David Beckham in downtown Miami didn’t sail. And his proposal to build a floating parking facility for the American Airlines Arena ran aground.

And then there is Maule Lake, a privately owned body of water in North Miami Beach bordering the upscale neighborhood of Eastern Shores. Business associates of Olthuis, through the Dutch Docklands Company, were contracted to buy the lake. It’s here that Olthuis planned to anchor 29 artificial islands ­­ each about 7000 square feet, with a four­bedroom house, vegetation, swimming pool, and a couple of boat docks ­­ and sell them for $12.5 million apiece. A 30th island, called an “amenity island,” was to feature a clubhouse. The floating community would be called Amillarah. (The project is named after another Dutch Docklands venture, Amillarah, in the Maldives. The word amillarah means private island in Maldivian, according to Dutch Docklands.)

Many Eastern Shores homeowners were horrified at the thought of 30 private islands being built in what they considered their backyard. Among their fears: that the islands would become projectiles during powerful hurricanes, that they would ruin the aesthetics of the neighborhood, and that they would attract throngs of gawkers.

“We don’t want it. We’re going to fight against it. And we’re not going to let it happen,” said Chuck Asarnow, president of the Eastern Shores Homeowners Association, in an interview with the BT in May 2015. In response to the outcry, the North Miami Beach City Council (four members of which, including Mayor George Vallejo, lived in Eastern Shores) declared Maule Lake to be a “conservation area” in July 2015, thus prohibiting development.

But Amillarah in North Miami Beach may not be dead in the water. This past October, Scott Weires, an attorney representing Raymond Gaylord Williams, the owner of Maule Lake, sent North Miami Beach officials a letter announcing his client’s intention to sue under Florida’s Bert J. Harris, Jr. Property Rights Protection Act for $37 million in damages if the city doesn’t rezone the lake. Maule Lake, incidentally, was a rock quarry used by the Maule Rock Mining Company, run by E.L. Maule, in the early 20th century. Williams is a descendant of Maule.

Under the Harris Property Rights Protection Act, a private property owner can seek relief when a governmental body imposes restrictions on the use of that property.

In a February 2, 2017, memo to NMB officials, city attorney José Smith stated that the Williams claim “lacks both merit and validity,” and that the law firm of Weiss Sorota Helfman had been retained to represent the city. Eastern Shores residents remain defiant, insisting that there were never any rights to build on the lake because it was never zoned for development.

“That took them awhile. I thought it was over,” says Fortuna Smukler, chair of the Eastern Shores Crimewatch committee, regarding Williams’s filing of a Harris action 18 months after the city designated the lake a conservation area. “I have confidence in our city attorney. He originally said that Williams won’t have a claim, and I believe him.”

Adds David Templer, an attorney and board member of the Eastern Shores Homeowners Association: “It’s pretty interesting that we use up all the waterfront land [for development] and, hey, now we can use up the water, too.” Weires contends that Williams has the right to develop the lake he has inherited, or to sell it with the development rights attached.

“Our investigation has revealed that these privately owned lands are not environmentally restricted and were never properly zoned by the city,” Weires tells the BT. “As a result, we contend that our client has a constitutional right to develop the entire parcel any way he wishes.

“That said,” Weires continues, “our client has always been, and continues to be, open to discussing possible resolutions with the city that would allow for the reasonable development of some portion of the 117 acres, while maintaining a large amount of the open water.”

And Olthuis? He’s still interested in building floating homes for Maule Lake. It will be a chance to showcase his buoyant residences, designed to withstand the strongest hurricanes, as an environmentally friendly method of developing submerged real estate.

“Miami can test these kinds of floating structures in order to use them on a bigger scale in the near future,” he says.

Olthuis isn’t the only person seeking to build innovative structures directly on the water. There are a number of bold designs floating around.

Among those proposing plans is the California­based Seasteading Institute, a nonprofit organization that received significant early funding from libertarian by Libertarian billionaire Peter Thiel “to provide a machinery of freedom to choose new societies on the blue frontier.” This past January, the Seasteading Institute signed a memorandum of understanding with the French Polynesian government that aims to build the first phase of a selfsustaining, floating village within the territorial waters, which would also have its own Special Economic Zone and “unique governing framework.”

The village, estimated to cost between $10 million and $50 million, is being designed by Blue 21, a Dutch engineering firm that also specializes in building floating structures. It will be  constructed by Blue Frontiers, a for­profit company spun off from the Seasteading Institute. Not to be confused with the nonprofit marine conservation group Blue Frontier Campaign, the Seasteaders’ Blue Frontiers aims “to develop and construct floating islands and to operate the seazone.” The institute envisions thousands of seasteads “across French Polynesia, the Pacific, and the world” that would “test new ideas for government.”

Doug Pope, a Jacksonville­based shipwreck treasure hunter, also wants to jump­start plans to create his project, Oceana Water Resort, a 50­unit hotel sitting on an elevated platform and rising six stories above the Gulf of Mexico, 16 miles northwest of Key West. It would be situated in water 55­60 feet deep, he told the Miami Herald in February, and sit on pilings that could be raised and lowered as needed. Oceana, Pope declares, will be designed to withstand winds up to 200 miles per hour and will be powered by generators in concert with wind and solar power.

And in Riviera Beach in Palm Beach County, Fane Lozman, a former outspoken North Bay Village activist, wants to build state­of­the­art stilt homes capable of responding to the tides, on 25 acres of prime submerged real estate that’s just a few miles from President Donald Trump’s Mar­a­Lago.

Steve Israel, a real estate investor and developer, says Mother Nature inspired his desire to turn Lincoln Harbor Yacht Club in Weehawken, New Jersey, a marina he has owned for 25 years, into a floating­home community.

“Hurricane Sandy flooded everything around us, including things that were anchored on the ground,” Israel recounts. “But all my boats floated up. We have high pilings ­­ and no damage.”

Olthuis has already designed a “double­story flood­resistant yacht” without motors that can serve as floating homes for Lincoln Harbor. But because New Jersey bans stationary houseboats, Israel is also seeking someone who can build luxury “livable yachts” with engines and limited mobility ­­ at least until the houseboat law is overturned.

“This is what I am mostly excited about,” Israel says, touting the marina’s views of Manhattan and
proximity to a New Jersey­New York ferry. Israel sees this as an opportunity to destroy a nationwide stigma against houseboats, and a means to prepare for a wetter future. “Both cities [New York and Miami] are likely to be flooded in the near future,” he says. “Why assume that the places we live have to be anchored to the ground?”

If his Lincoln Harbor venture works out, Israel may try something similar for the marina he’s redeveloping in Fort Myers near the site of a future 18­story condo he may co­develop or sell to another investor. (The proposed condo has parking on the first three floors, Israel says, partly as a precaution against future flooding events.) Israel would also love to set up a floating community in Miami: “I do believe Miami is very ripe for the same kind of deal.”

Building directly on the water isn’t a new thing. There’s Olthuis anticipated a parking crunch with this structure floating next to American Airlines Arena.
evidence that people have lived in stilt­houses on the shores of lakes and seas since prehistoric times. And there have been floating villages in Asia for centuries.

In Florida, the waterways of Miami and Miami Beach were once filled with houseboats, says Paul George, a historian affiliated with the HistoryMiami Museum, and a “It kind of evolved,” George says, noting that the first houseboats on the Miami River, in the 1920s, were anchored near Grove Park in today’s Little Havana. “My sense is that some of these people were Northerners,” he says. “They were staying on houseboats, staying during the season, which is wintertime in Miami.” By the 1930s and 1940s, there were hundreds of houseboats on local waterways.

By the 1950s and 1960s, houseboats were also tied to docks in Miami Beach and North Bay Village, inspiring a television show in the early 1960s called Surfside 6, about a detective agency based on a houseboat moored across the street from Miami Beach’s Fontainebleau Hotel.

Just off of Key Biscayne, in the shallow waters of Biscayne Bay, another aquatic community sprouted, called Stiltsville. Its origins can be traced to 1933, when Crawfish Eddie Walker turned a wrecked ship into a spot where he could sell chowder and bait to recreational fisherman. “He was a great storyteller,” George says.

Within a few years, Walker had neighbors. Various clubs, restaurants, lodges, and weekend homes were established, either on grounded ships or in stilt houses that rose ten feet or more above sea level.

At its height there were 27 houses and converted shipwrecks in Stiltsville. But the community’s structures were gradually weeded out by hurricanes. Prior to Hurricane Betsy in 1965, there were 24 businesses operating on old ships and stilt­houses, notes George. After Betsy there were just 17.

Permits for new structures stopped after Biscayne National Park took over Stiltsville in 1980. The businesses and residences that remained were allowed to operate another two decades. Then along came Hurricane Andrew, which whittled the houses down to seven. After a campaign was launched to save the structures, the remaining seven houses are now shuttered, preserved relics that are maintained by their former owners, now referred to as “caretakers.”

Hurricanes slashed the number of houseboats in Miami and Miami Beach, too. That and a growing stigma toward houseboats. Some of the vessels on the Miami River became unsightly hunks of junk. George says the houseboat dwellers were often referred to as “river rats.” By the 1980s and 1990s, the City of Miami was outlawing them on the Miami River and other waterways. Miami Beach passed similar legislation. And marinas? They started turning away houseboats and other vessels used as full­time residences.

It’s thanks to Fane Lozman that Dutch Docklands now has some added legal support in its pursuit of the Maule Lake project. Lozman, the creator of Scanshift, a software program that keeps tabs on the stock market, fell in love with the Miami houseboat lifestyle more than a decade ago and fought all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court for his right to continue living on one.

Lozman has a reputation for fighting. In 2003, when his first houseboat was tied up in North Bay Village, he tangled with Al Coletta, a politically influential property owner who allegedly threatened Lozman when he asked if a ramp could be provided for a disabled elderly houseboat owner.

Soon Lozman was fighting Coletta’s allies at North Bay Village City Hall. In November 2003, Commissioner Robert Dugger was arrested for official misconduct based on evidence Lozman collected showing that Dugger failed to disclose his financial connections to Coletta. The Seasteading Institute hopes to build a floating city in French Polynesia, like this concept designed by Blue21.

In April 2004, police Chief David Heller resigned and Mayor Al Dorne and Commissioner Armand Abecassis were arrested for actions related to an obscene threatening cartoon left anonymously in Lozman’s mail.

Lozman might still be in North Bay Village if it hadn’t been for Hurricane Wilma in October 2005. His houseboat survived, but 41 of the neighboring houseboats sank, and the marina where he docked was destroyed. In the aftermath, he discovered that many marinas were reluctant to accept houseboats for fear of turning them into “aquatic trailer parks.”

The only place that would accept Lozman’s houseboat was a marina owned by the City of Riviera Beach, 75 miles up the coast from North Bay Village. Within two months of relocating, Lozman learned that the city planned to condemn the marina as part of a controversial $2.3 billion waterfront redevelopment plan. Lozman sued to stop the project. Riviera Beach officials responded by claiming that Lozman hadn’t paid his dock fees, an accusation he denied. In 2009, after a circuit court judge ruled that his motor­less houseboat was a “vessel,”

Riviera Beach officials seized his houseboat under admiralty law, towed it away, and destroyed it. Lozman, in turn, appealed the case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. In 2013, the court ruled that Lozman’s houseboat was, indeed, a home and not a vessel.

Although Lozman says he’s still litigating to be compensated for his home’s destruction, it was his case that has helped Koen Olthuis’s Dutch Docklands associates argue that the proposed floating islands in Maule Lake will be, in fact, floating properties. Lozman bought another houseboat, a circa­1967 two­story home that was once featured in a Frank Sinatra crime drama called Lady in Cement. Unable to find another marina, he kept it anchored in Biscayne Bay near in the 79th Street Causeway.

Then in 2014, he was contacted by the owners of 200 acres of submerged property on the Intracoastal Waterway, along A1A in Singer Island, a narrow strip of land that is now the most affluent part of Riviera Beach.

“They were wealthy people whose family was paying taxes on it for the past 94 years,” Lozman says. The family was so enamored of his “David versus Goliath Doug Pope’s vision of his Oceana Water Resort, a 50­unit hotel 16 miles northwest of Key West in the Gulf of Mexico. story,” as Lozman puts it, that they offered to sell him 25 acres of their submerged land for $250,000. The deal closed later that year.

By the summer of 2016, Lozman had triumphantly towed his second floating home, the Sinatra houseboat, adorned with a banner proclaiming his Supreme Court victory, and anchored it at one of his submerged land parcels. Lozman also announced his intention to build a community of floating homes on his 25 acres.

His waterfront condo neighbors, who lived along A1A, were less than thrilled. Last July, Singer Island residents, fearful of losing their views and property values, petitioned the Riviera Beach City Commission to not grant Lozman street addresses.

Lozman says his neighbors’ expressions of dismay weren’t limited to petitions or pleas to local media. A couple of men in a boat tried to hit him with a drone, Lozman recounts, and someone broke into his houseboat and left garbage bags filled with feces.

“One woman came over and tried to buy my property,” Lozman remembers. When he said no, “she started cursing at me. She wouldn’t take no for an answer.” (E­mails to the Singer Island Homeowners Association, as well as calls to the association’s president, went unanswered by deadline.)

This past August, Lozman’s Sinatra houseboat sank. The cause isn’t known, but Lozman says the fact that a door to the second floor of his houseboat was open, and that several hatches were missing, indicate an intruder may have sunk it. Witnesses also saw people with flashlights near his property prior to the sinking, he adds.

In spite of his best efforts, the home couldn’t be salvaged. The matter is under investigation and Lozman now lives with his girlfriend at an undisclosed location.

Despite the setback, in November Lozman won yet another case, this one forcing the City of Riviera Beach to give him street addresses for his properties, enabling him to obtain permits from the city, state, and Army Corps of Engineers.

Lozman has since changed his mind about creating a community of floating homes in Riviera Beach. Instead he wants to create Tidal House at Renegade, a development of 40 or 50 two­story stilt homes that use a pinion gear system to move with the tides, plus aerodynamic roofs that can withstand high winds.

Terry and Terry Architects, a San Francisco firm run by brothers Alex and Ivan Terry, came up with the design that, Alex Terry tells the BT, was unveiled at an architecture exhibit in Venice, Italy, last summer and is based on exploratory oil rigs.

“They’re kind of a response to changing climate and a lot of issues with tidal action…and places where there is severe storm action,” Alex Terry says, adding that the Tidal House design has also garnered interest in India.

“The stilt home is a superior solution,” says Lozman, who has hired contractor Donna Milo, a former Upper Eastside resident (and one­time Miami City Commission candidate) to build the homes. Lozman hopes to start construction by 2018, adding that he’s already had offers to buy Tidal House residences for $3 million each.

“In Palm Beach County, three million is not a lot of money,” he notes, pointing out that the condos on Singer Island sell for as much as $10 million.

Wayne Pathman is an environmental and land­use attorney. He has served on special committees on sea level rise for the City of Miami and Miami­Dade County, and is chairman of the Miami Beach Chamber of Commerce.

Pathman advocates for extensive changes in urban codes and infrastructure improvements to address the threat of rising seas. He supports actions spearheaded by Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine ­­ namely, adding pumps and elevating streets to handle flooding.

Pathman has advocated against creating new historic districts in the city’s North Beach neighborhood, arguing that doing so would limit options for property owners in the future, as tidal events become more pronounced. Pathman often reminds people that the insurance industry is already looking at the future impacts of sea level rise in Florida.

But placing floating homes and stilt houses on South Florida’s waterways? “I don’t think people here in South Florida are really ready for floating homes like other parts of the world,” he says. “It has to be explored when sea level rise becomes more of an impact.”

Miami Beach, in particular, has been pretty tough on even common boats anchoring on the city’s waterways, this in response to waterfront homeowners who complain that liveaboards (full time boat residents) invade their privacy. Although a proposed law making it illegal to live aboard a boat full­time was rejected in 2002, the city has recently passed laws forbidding vessels from anchoring in public waters without permission, except for specified areas near the Venetian Causeway.

Dutch architect Olthuis emphasizes that Maule Lake has been privately owned for decades, and he is sure the Amillarah project would be beneficial to the surrounding neighborhoods and the city itself. He points out that the Supreme Court ruling in Lozman’s case clarifies that floating homes without motors are actually homesteads that can be taxed as property. In other words, floating homes can provide cities with revenues.

Olthuis argues that places like South Florida need to start thinking seriously about how climate change will affect living choices.

“You can see that cities like Miami and New York and Guangzhou are the top cities being threatened by sea level rise, in terms of assets,” he says. “Miami has to come up with different kinds of solutions. You have to come up with new technology, and you have to change the DNA of cities. You have to slowly start implementing these kinds of developments that have growing resiliency.”

He’s hopeful that building codes in Florida will soon force developers to build in preparation for a changing environment, much like in his native Netherlands. “In 10 or 15 years, builders will, for the most part, have made the switch to resilient typologies like floating houses or stilt houses in Miami,” he predicts.

Other aspiring builders, like Doug Pope in Jacksonville, think the new administration in Washington will be their ally in removing regulations. A single regulation ­­ dealing with Oceana’s water treatment ­­ stood in the project’s way when it was proposed in 2010, Pope asserts. Then the project fell into limbo when Oceana’s financial backers suddenly balked. Now he is somewhat confident he can find new investors to raise the $26 million needed to build Oceana.

“Things are looking better,” he says. “I wouldn’t say ‘good.’ I would say better.” But why submit yourself to outside governmental regulations at all? Joe Quirk, a science author affiliated with Peter Thiel’s Seasteading Institute, says technology can innovate more quickly if entrepreneurs don’t have to report to government. That’s why the Seasteading Institute wants to create floating­island “startup societies” with their own autonomy.

If the French Polynesia pilot project succeeds, notes Randolph Hencken, the institute’s executive director, he can envision “future seasteads in places like Miami and Bangladesh.” Says Quirk: “In order for us to bring this technology to Florida or Miami, the governments of Florida and Miami would have to legislate us some measure of legislative or regulatory autonomy.”

Absent new discoveries that could clean the atmosphere of greenhouse gases, the oceans will continue to warm and rise ­­ increasingly faster ­­ as ice from Greenland and Antarctica slips beneath the waves, predicts Harold Wanless, chairman of the University of Miami’s Department of Geology and an outspoken climatologist.

Because humans have been burning fossil fuels for more than a century, Wanless points out, the planet has about as much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere today as it did 3 million years ago, a time when there were no polar ice caps and the oceans were 80 feet higher. “This isn’t a cloud of smoke that will just evaporate,” Wanless quips.

The UM professor adds that we won’t have to wait until 2100 to see the full effects of sea level rise. In less than 30 years, he says, tidal flooding will be significantly worse for low­lying areas like Broward, Miami Beach, Key Biscayne, west Miami­Dade, south Brickell, and Miami’s Edgewater and Upper Eastside neighborhoods, along with other areas up and down the Biscayne Corridor. (For more on sea level rise projections, see “Six Feet Under,” June 2015.) According to Wanless, Miami Beach’s expensive efforts to mitigate rising seas will only last a couple of decades.

Wanless says the innovations proposed by Olthuis, the Terry brothers, and the Seasteaders are “nice” and “creative,” but he questions if anyone is going to want to live in a flooded area that will be significantly hotter, ravaged by more powerful storms, and difficult to traverse.

A better idea, Wanless suggests, would be preparing places like Omaha, Nebraska, to accommodate the millions of people who will be displaced from coastal communities in the United States.

Olthuis, however, is undeterred. He’s confident his floating­structure designs can help South Florida adapt to the changes that most scientists agree are certain to come. And in addition to Maule Lake, he has leads on other sites.

“You can imagine that other people with new opportunities have contacted us,” he says. “Developers who are asking if we can do the same for their water.” Olthuis wouldn’t identify those developers or where future floating projects might be located.

“They’re not ready,” he explains. “They must get hold of all their licenses and all their agreements before they start bringing their projects into the open.”

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Buoyant buildings: better than boats?

By P.Kennedy
Suffolk Construction’s Content 

Build smart
September.16.2016

 

With hurricane season at its peak, we explore how floating homes might help us adapt to bigger storms and rising seas.

The Dutch have a head start when it comes to dealing with water. The extreme weather events and rising sea level that scientists predict this century will affect millions around the globe—most of the world’s largest cities are along the coasts. But that problem has long been acute in the low-lying Netherlands, where two-thirds of the population live in flood-prone areas. Over the centuries, the Dutch have honed technologies—dikes, canals, and pumps—that keep their streets and houses dry.

Now, a new generation of Dutch engineers and architects is modeling another method. Rather than fight to keep water out, they say, why not live on it? The basic idea is not new—hundreds of free spirits live on traditional houseboats in quirky communities like Sausalito, California, and Key West, Florida. But in the Netherlands over the past few years, novel technologies have allowed developers to build roughly a thousand (and counting) stable, flat-bottomed, multi-story homes connected to land-based utilities yet designed to rise and fall with the tides and even floods. House boats, these ain’t.

And this is just the start. The Dutch are thinking bigger, and they’re exporting their floating-home vision worldwide, betting that the rest of us coastal clingers could use it. Some projects exist already, others are on the drawing board or coming soon. Let’s take a look at a few, from the workaday to the fantastical, and from overseas to right here in the States.

Photo by Roos Aldershoff, courtesy of Marlies Rohmer Architects and Urbanists

A “normal house” on water

The first of its kind, Waterbuurt (above and top) is a planned neighborhood of about 100 (eventually 165) floating houses in Amsterdam’s IJmeer Lake, part of a freshwater reservoir dammed off from the North Sea in the 1930s. Waterbuurt broke ground—er, water—in 2009, and was largely complete by 2014. Connected by jetties, the structures are three-story, 2,960-square-foot houses built of wood, aluminum, and glass.

And the foundations? Floating concrete tubs. Each house is designed to weigh 110 tons and displace 110 tons of water, which—as Archimedes could tell you—causes it to float. (The bottom floor is half submerged.) To prevent rocking in the waves, the house is fastened to two mooring posts—on diagonally opposite corners of the house—driven 20 feet into the lake bed. The posts are telescoping, allowing the house to rise and fall with the water level. Flexible pipes deliver electricity and plumbing.

Because any crack in the foundation tub could cause the house to sink, there can’t be any joints; builders pour the entire basement in one shot—much like the parking garage of the Jade Signaturecondo complex in Florida. In a facility 30 miles away from the IJmeer Lake site, crews use special buckets that pour 200 gallons per minute to finish all four walls and the floor in a single shift.

Just four months elapse before the entire house is built; then it’s towed by tugboat—30 miles through canals and locks—to the plot. The transportation is a major reason the houses cost about 10 percent more than an average home in Amsterdam, though they’re still aimed at the city’s middle class. The houses were designed by architect Marlies Rohmer, for developer Ontwikkelingscombinatie Waterbuurt West.

Photo by Marcel van der Berg

Once secured to its mooring posts, the structure is formally considered an immovable home, not a house boat. (Although owners have the option of naming their waterborne homes as sea captains do. One couple calls theirs La Scalota Grigia—Italian for “The Grey Box.”)

With high ceilings and straight angles, a house in Waterbuurt “feels like a normal house,” wrote a New York Times reporter who toured one. But some residents say they do feel their home swaying when the wind kicks up.

One other drawback, or at least challenge: Residents have to decide before the house is even built where they’re going to place furniture, because that will affect its balance. The walls are built to varying thickness, depending on the layout submitted. What if you inherit a beloved aunt’s piano after you move in? Or have another child and need to buy a bunkbed? To compensate, homeowners can install balance tanks on the exterior or Styrofoam in the cellar, or carefully move furniture around or even deploy sand bags. A bit of a hassle, but perhaps with an eye on rising sea levels, that’s a risk Amsterdammers are willing to take.

Rendering courtesy of architect Koen Olthuis, Waterstudio.NL, and developer Dutch Docklands

Living large on a lake

At the luxury end of the market, there’s Citadel, which aims to be the world’s first floating apartment complex. Construction began in 2014. Citadel uses the same technology as Waterbuurt—floating concrete base, mooring pistons—but on a larger scale, in the sense that this will be one massive deck supporting a multifaceted apartment building, rather than a place for many individual houses to dock. Think of it as Waterbuurt with butlers. (And underwater parking and other amenities).

Citadel was designed by pioneering architect Koen Olthuis’ Waterstudio in partnership with master developer Dutch Docklands. The concrete caisson foundation will measure 240 by 420 by 9 feet, supporting 60 sleek, aluminum-clad apartments in an irregular arrangement that from the air will look a bit like a scattering of stacks of jigsaw puzzle pieces. Palm trees will sprout from courtyards. Green roofs are planned, and the developer hopes to have Citadel use 25 percent less energy than a similarly-sized complex on land.

One thing remarkable about Citadel is the body of water it will float in: a lake that doesn’t exist yet, though it did once. Construction is taking place in a polder, one of the Netherlands’ many low-lying areas that is only dry because pumps work 24-7 to keep the water out. Once construction is complete, the pumps will shut off, and the area will be re-flooded, to 12 feet deep. Eventually, Dutch Docklands plans to build five more complexes in the same un-manmade lake, dubbed New Water.

Rendering courtesy of architect Koen Olthuis, Waterstudio.NL, and developer Dutch Dockland

Exporting the vision

This is all well and good for the Dutch, but what about the flat, flood-prone coastal regions here in the USA? Like, for example, Florida? Well, the Dutch have thought of that. Another Waterstudio-Docklands project is Amillarah Floating Private Islands Miami, located in Maule Lake. A former limestone rock quarry, the privately owned lake is an inlet a mile and a half from the ocean, a bit north of Miami Beach.

Dubbed a “villa flotilla” by the Miami Herald, the complex will consist of 29 6,000-square-foot condos priced at $12.5 million each. As with Citadel and other Dutch Docklands projects, there are plans to boost the Maule Lake project’s sustainability, in this case with solar and hydrogen-powered generators.

Though similar to Citadel in the Netherlands, this project wouldn’t have been possible Stateside without a 2013 U.S. Supreme Court decision that floating homes could be considered real estate, not boats. As the Herald explained, would-be buyers of Amillarah condos can get a mortgage and homeowners’ insurance, and the Coast Guard can’t bust in and inspect for life jackets.

Maule Lake will be out of reach for most Floridians financially, but if the ambitious project succeeds, it will provide visual evidence to Miami that floating houses can be done, and perhaps inspire larger, more modest developments like Amsterdam’s Waterbuurt.

Renderings courtesy of architect Brian Healy

Not hidebound in the Hub

In Boston, architect Brian Healy, for the local office of Perkins+Will, won awards in 2013 for his design of Floatyard, a proposed apartment complex that would stretch out onto the Mystic River from the Charlestown Navy Yard, using much of the same technology as the abovementioned Dutch initiatives. Were Floatyard and similar projects to become reality here, Healy argues that they would not only help the city adapt to rising seas but also revitalize disused shipyards (for example, in East Boston and Quincy) and reorient Boston—historically a seaport—toward its natural center, the harbor.

What makes Floatyard unique is its central courtyard: a floating wetland island, built above the foundation, to be seeded with native marsh grass and aquatic wildlife. The design also includes a plan to harvest tidal energy via the structure’s mooring post pistons.

Elder statesman of architecture criticism Robert Campbell could have been talking about any of the above floating buildings when he wrote of Floatyard: “Like a lot of good ideas, this one is just crazy enough to make sense.” Given the prediction for the ocean to rise between three and five feet by the year 2100, it might be more crazy not to build on floating tubs.

 

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Het conflict van de dynamische mens met statische steden en gebouwen

By Tanny de Nooy
Blandlord
July.1.2016

 

1 Juli 2016  Blandlord

Vastgoed móet flexibiliteit gaan bieden

Koen Olthuis studeerde Architectuur en Industrieel Ontwerp aan de TU Delft. Hij werkt sindsdien als architect en heeft water als specialisme. In 2007 noemde Time Magazine hem in de lijst ‘most influential people’ vanwege zijn werk in het wereldwijd groeiende interesseveld waterontwikkeling. Het Franse tijdschrift Terra Eco verkoos hem in 2011 tot een van de honderd ‘groene’ mensen die de wereld zullen veranderen. Olthuis’ architectenbureau Waterstudio en is gevestigd in Rijswijk.

“In Nederland kennen we als geen ander de mogelijkheid om van water bouwgrond te maken. We hebben een lange historie als het gaat om het bewoonbaar maken van natte gebieden. Dat fascineert me al sinds ik studeerde.” Koen Olthuis houdt zich al vijftien jaar bezig met architectuur op het water. In 2003 richtte hij Architectenbureau Waterstudio op en sindsdien is het bureau alleen maar gegroeid. Olthuis is een veelgevraagd architect, van China en Dubai tot aan de Oekraïne en de Malediven.

Olthuis is overtuigd van de vele kansen die water te bieden heeft als het gaat om te toekomst van vastgoed. “Waar het water vroeger nog benaderd werd als een vijand die in toom gehouden moest worden, is het de afgelopen twintig jaar een vriend geworden, die ongekende mogelijkheden biedt: we kunnen met z’n allen op het water gaan wonen! En ja: dat kan overal ter wereld. Van woonboten en waterwoningen tot drijvende resorts: als er water is, kun je erop bouwen.”

“Ik weet zeker dat de vastgoedwereld de komende jaren enorm gaat veranderen”, zegt Olthuis. “Kijk om je heen; de wereld is vandaag écht anders georganiseerd dan tien jaar geleden en dit is nog maar het begin! Bedrijven veranderen de manier waarop ze werken onder invloed van de mogelijkheden van internet en nieuwe technologieën en ook in onze privélevens veranderen onze behoeften onder invloed van deze ontwikkelingen. Je kunt op je vingers natellen dat wat wij verwachten van de fysieke ruimtes waarin we wonen en werken óók zal veranderen.”

De wereld om ons heen verandert
Olthuis wijst op de grote leegstand van kantoorgebouwen die zich het afgelopen decennium in veel steden ontwikkeld heeft. Hij verklaart die leegstand door de luiheid en traagheid van de vastgoedwereld. “Onze steden zijn statisch, onze gebouwen zijn statisch, maar wij, de mensen die er gebruik van maken zijn dynamisch. Je kunt de prachtigste gebouwen maken, maar omdat de wereld om ons heen zo snel verandert is dat gebouw over tien jaar al achterhaald. Als we op deze manier blijven werken zal er niets veranderen. Gebouwen die we nu ontwerpen zullen niet meer voldoen aan de dan geldende wensen en behoeften als ze gerealiseerd zijn. Vastgoed zal meer flexibiliteit moeten gaan bieden.”

“Er zijn zoveel veranderingen dat je die als architect onmogelijk allemaal kunt voorzien”, stelt Olthuis nuchter vast. “En dus is flexibiliteit bieden het enige wat je kunt doen. Vastgoed zou niet statisch moeten zijn. Vastgoed evolueert. Nu bouwen we gebouwen die zo lang staan dat ze overbodig worden en een negatief effect op steden hebben. Architecten moeten gaan ontwerpen voor verandering. We moeten gebouwen ontwerpen die snel en eenvoudig aanpasbaar zijn, zodat ze mee kunnen golven met onze veranderende wensen.” Dat meegolven mag je van Olthuis vrij letterlijk nemen: “Alles wat je op water bouwt is makkelijk aanpasbaar. Je kunt elementen snel verbinden met elkaar en je kunt andere dingen wegschuiven. Maar ook kartonbouw en panden die bestaan uit een lichte houtstructuur, piepschuim of containers zijn oplossingen die veel meer passen bij de wensen en behoeften van deze tijd. Nog geen twintig jaar geleden spuugden we erop, maar nu zien we de logica ervan in. Het biedt precies díe flexibiliteit die de vastgoedsector nodig heeft.”

Flexibiliteit is de sleutel
En flexibiliteit is ook precies wat bouwen op het water te bieden heeft, weet Olthuis. Als het aan hem ligt bouwen we over tien jaar hele steden op het water zoals dat in andere landen al lang gebeurt. “Denk bijvoorbeeld aan de RAI in Amsterdam. In feite is dat een ontzettend log gebouw, dat voor veel events die er worden georganiseerd nét te klein of veel te groot is. Ik kan me voorstellen dat je zegt: ‘we slopen de RAI en bouwen woningen op die gewilde plaats in de stad’. Met het geld dat dat oplevert zouden er drijvende expositieruimtes in de Amsterdamse havens gebouwd kunnen worden. Daar is immers plek zat! Bij een groot event laat je die nieuwe ruimtes naar een plek in hartje centrum drijven. Op die manier benut je de ruimte die je ook echt nodig hebt.” Olthuis droomt van een dynamische stad met flexibele gebouwen.“De ziel van zo’n stad wordt bepaald door vaste iconische gebouwen als kerken en universiteiten. Maar daaromheen bouwen we flexibele en verplaatsbare functies  die gedurende hun levensduur niet meer perse locatiegebonden zijn. Helemaal ingespeeld op wat de gebruiker van het gebouw op dat moment nodig heeft.”

Het aantrekken van de economie en daarmee de woningmarkt is voor Olthuis hét moment om op te roepen tot meer innovatie in de vastgoedsector. “Juist nu het weer beter gaat moeten we in durven zetten op verandering. Als we blijven doen wat we altijd al deden zullen we vroeg of laat weer tegen dezelfde problemen aanlopen. Als we met behulp van de nieuwe technologieën die we nu voorhanden hebben durven te werken, plukken we daar al heel snel de vruchten van.” De kern van Olthuis’ verhaal? “Denk na over hoe we kunnen bouwen voor ‘change’. Wat er over 10 jaar gaat gebeuren weten we niet. Bouw dus met een kortere levensduur. Van nieuwe, slimme manieren van investeren en financieren tot het durven gebruiken van nieuwe bouwmaterialen: gebouwen moeten weer van en voor de mensen zijn. Dát is de toekomst.”

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Can floating homes solve the urban housing crunch?

By Ken Wysocky
BBC
June.1.2016

ON THE SURFACE, Michele Affronte and Marianne Gerrits have little in common. Affronte is a real estate agent who lives in Sausalito, California. Gerrits resides almost half-way around the world in Amsterdam.

Yet one common element ties them together. They both are urban pioneers of sorts — early adopters, if you will — of a lifestyle that could well be the wave of the future in city dwelling: Living the life aquatic aboard floating homes.

As land and housing prices in heavily populated urban areas continue to rise astronomically and housing availability becomes tighter than a first-gear hairpin curve, the floating home seems like a logical and plausible alternative for urban planners and developers. The bottom line: They aren’t making land any more, as American writer and sage Mark Twain astutely observed more than a century ago.

Other factors portend this sea change in urban living, such as rising ocean levels as a result of climate change and burgeoning populations that will strain existing land resources in urban areas. While few predict a Waterworld-ish doomsday scenario, it is interesting to note that about 44% of the world’s population lives within 150 kilometres (93 miles) of an ocean and most of the world’s megacities (2.5 million inhabitants or more) lie in coastal areas, according to the United Nations.

Moreover, the UN reports that 54% of the world’s population lives in urban areas – and that figure is expected to increase to 66% by 2050. In short, there’s a perfect storm of factors brewing that soon may force mankind to dip its collective toe into the deep end, so to speak, of offshore living.

Some cities and countries are already diving in. From Vancouver to Dubai and from Indonesia to the Netherlands, thousands of people have embraced offshore housing.

Take Affronte, for instance, who’s lived atop the waves in an eclectic community of some 480 houseboats on Richardson Bay since 1991. Her 1,800-square-foot floating home has three bedrooms, two full bathrooms, a living room, a kitchen, a dining room and a rooftop deck, plus municipal water and sewer connections.

“I planned on remodeling my houseboat, then flipping it and moving back onto land,” she explains. “But I loved it so much that I stayed. Now I’ll never leave.”

Two of the nearly 500 houseboats on Richardson Bay in Sausalito, California.

Gerrits also enjoys the aquatic lifestyle. She notes that her 800-square-foot houseboat (the second one she’s lived on), which floats on an Amsterdam canal, provides a unique perspective on the world. “You see so many different things on the water,” she says. “It’s as if a whole new world opens up to you.”

But in the dyke-protected Netherlands, aquatic living is rapidly becoming a necessity, not an idyllic lifestyle choice. For starters, about one-third of the country is under water — and threatened by rising sea levels. Moreover, the Dutch government estimates that 500,000 new homes will be needed in the next two decades to meet demand, but there’s not enough urban land to sustain that growth.

As such, it’s no wonder that the Netherlands has become a Ground Zero of sorts for floating housing. While exact numbers aren’t available, experts estimate that thousands of floating homes already exist in the Netherlands, ranging from charming converted barges to the nouveau-urban-style floating community in the IJburg district of Amsterdam, designed by Marlies Rohmer Architects and Planners.

Modern floating homes in Amsterdam’s IJburg neighborhood, a trio of artificial islands created to help mitigate the city’s housing shortage.

“Safety, (limited) space and flexibility are the three main drivers pushing us toward the water,” says Koen Olthuis, the founder and owner of Waterstudio.NL, an aquatic architectural firm based in Rijswijk in the Netherlands. A water-living visionary, Olthuis is a leading proponent of amphibious housing. In 2007, he ranked 122nd on Time magazine’s list of the world’s most influential people and in 2011, the French magazine Terra Eco selected him as one of 100 “green” people that will change the world. (He’s also written a book entitled Float! Building on Water to Combat Urban Congestion and Climate Change.)

“It’s already safer to live on water if you live where flooding is common,” he explains. “And most big cities are already densely populated and the square-metre (housing) prices are rising rapidly… and water is not as expensive as land.

“Moreover, cities are too static — every urban component we build has to stay there for 50 or 70 years,” he continues. “And as cities change, the only alternative is to demolish these things. But floating buildings can be moved and adapted…it’s all about reinventing our cities so they function better.”

Floating buildings can be moved and adapted…it’s all about reinventing our cities so they function better.

Nicolas Le Guen, the founder of Aquashell, a France-based architectural firm that specializes in designing floating buildings, concurs. “Floating homes are becoming more popular because they’re the best solution (to many problems),” he notes. “And after we build floating homes, we notice that our customers then want to build other kinds of floating projects, such as floating fitness rooms or floating restaurants, because they solve problems like rising prices and limited space in the center of towns.”

The projects built by or on the books at Waterstudio.NL are mind-blowing in nature compared to Sausalito’s shabby-chic, hippie-ish houseboat community. From a floating mosque in Dubai and a buoyant hotel off the coast of Norway to a water-based resort in the Maldives and an on-water health centerin China, Olthuis is clearly intent on pushing the flotation envelope.

Other forward thinkers around the globe are following suit. A Google search for “floating homes” generates more than one million hits and reveals conceptual, see-worthy aquatic gems like this audacious-but-spare ocean-going yachthouse from Wally Design in Monaco, suitable for Arabian oil sheiks; a rakish, minimalistic-yet-chic abode for millionaire Wall Street quants, designed by Le 2 Workshop in Poland; a bobber-inspired dwelling for the open seas from Orhan Cileli in Detroit, Michigan; and a futuristic home that imitates a jellyfish, designed by Giancarlo Zema Design Group in Rome. Or for a real walk on the wild side, how about this floating “ecopolis,” imagined by Paris-based Vincent Callebaut Architectures?

Sleeping with the fishes

Dubai’s chic Floating Seahorse villas offer deep-blue views.

SEASIDE HOMES IN DUBAI are among the world’s priciest. A typical beachfront townhouse on the tony Palm Jumeirah artificial archipelago can run £2m or more and plots on a sprinkling of man-made islands called The World can command 10 times that sum. Enter the Floating Seahorse, a three-storey seaborne townhome with all the luxury touches a well-heeled Emiratis would expect — plus one amazing trick. The one- or two-bedroom houseboat’s glassed-in subaqueous bottom floor offers panoramic views into the Persian Gulf’s depths. Kleindinest Group, the real estate firm behind the Seahorse (examples of which are presently listed for between £1.3m and £2.3m), calls it “the world’s first underwater villa with a view to the world’s largest national aquarium.” Because what’s more luxurious than going snorkeling without having to get out of bed? —Bryan Lufkin

More practical examples of floating homes also abound for the 99 percenters, like this sleek, IKEA-ish home from +31 Architects in Amsterdam; a sensually contoured, wave-mimicking abode, designed by Robert Harvey Oshatz Architect in Portland, Oregon; a modern-yet-rustic dwelling from Christopher Simmonds Architect in Ottawa, Ontario; and this stylish stunnerfrom Vandeventer + Carlander Architects in Seattle, Washington.

Some designers are surprised it took so long for this flood of innovative designs to emerge. Some 10 to 15 years ago, the Dutch seemed poised for a houseboat boom, but a host of obstacles thwarted growth, says Jonathan Baker, a native of Santa Barbara, California, who now lives in Copenhagen and works as an in-house architect for the United States embassy there. He should know; Baker used to work for Waterliving, a now-defunct architecture firm that specialized in floating homes before it went under, doomed by a promising market that never materialized.

Should a floating home be considered a ship that needed to be registered like a boat? What about building codes? Building materials? And obtaining insurance and bank loans?

“Should a floating home be considered a ship that needed to be registered like a boat?” he asks rhetorically, ticking off a list of complications that mired progress. “What about building codes? Building materials? And obtaining insurance and bank loans? We had very contemporary and experimental ideas…but there were no precedents. Governments had a hard time getting their heads around how these homes would be taxed and who owns the water they’re on.”

Yvonne de Korte, an urban geographer who co-wrote a book in 2008 about floating homes called Mooring Site Amsterdam: Living On Water, agrees with Baker’s assessment. “When we wrote the book [with co-author Maarten Kloos], there was an energy surrounding floating homes – you could feel it with builders and architects and students,” recalls de Korte. “But not much was realized.”

Olthuis sees all that changing now, noting that floating homes now receive more support than flak from municipalities. “Insurance, licensing, regulations – they all take time to figure out,” he says. “But in the last several years, things have pushed over a kind of invisible line and things are moving much faster.

“The DNA of these houses is changing, too,” he points out. “They’re slowly becoming more like land-based houses. The quality is getting better, we can build them larger, they require less maintenance, offer better stability and prices are dropping to point that they almost cost the same as homes on land. They’re becoming more interesting to municipalities, because they’re treating them as real estate, which generates property taxes.”

Technological advances are making floating home more viable, too, Olthuis says. Unlike many early houseboats that were built on old barges, new floaters now sit atop concrete “tubs” that offer more stability through a lower center of gravity. And they’re increasingly being built with composite materials that are lighter and stronger than traditional materials. Moreover, it’s becoming more common to build a home on land, then use a crane to place it on the “foundation,” he adds.

“There’s also a trend toward ‘plug-and-play’ houses,” Olthuis adds. “Say you have a basic house with three bedrooms. But when your kids move out, you take off a (modular) room off and put on something different – essentially order a new room for your house. It can change with you as time passes and new needs emerge.”

A former barge converted to houseboat duty along a canal in Amsterdam.

Are floating homes less expensive that land-based homes? It all depends. In Marin County, where floating-home-resident Affronte lives, the average home on land goes for about $800,000. An average two-bedroom, two-bathroom floating home? About $600,000 – but that doesn’t include a one-time payment of about $200,000 for berthing rights, plus property taxes and monthly association fees. The residents also pay higher interest rates for mortgages because lenders worry about the homes’ mobility, which gives unscrupulous owners the means to take off for points unknown.

But the floating homes more than hold their value, Affronte points out, noting that an average unit six years ago sold for around $375,000. “Demand always exceeds supply,” she says. Adds Baker: “Anything that overlooks water is more expensive…but the actual structures generally aren’t any more expensive than traditional homes.”

Cost issues aside, Olthuis envisions a buoyant future for water living as urban congestion increases and climate change brings on stronger rains and more flooding. He foresees a day when “floating gardens” of solar cells provide electric power for sustainable, offshore houses. Baker says floating sewage-treatment plants and fresh-water plants aren’t outside the realm of possibility. “Then they can develop enclaves in places without standard water and sewer infrastructure,” he says.

In addition, Olthuis contends that the floating-home lifestyle will be a boon to cities, which will vie with other water-oriented metropolises to attract residents. “Cities will need to brand themselves and make themselves more interesting, and water living will be just the thing to attract young, high-net-worth individuals…and floating communities will only increase the functionality and flexibility of cities.

“And if those young people don’t like one city, they can move their (floating) home to another city…they’ll change jobs and take their houses with them,” he concludes.

Overall, the appeal and logic of living on water is easy to fathom. “I can’t see any downside,” Baker offers. But it remains to be seen if this sea change in residential living runs aground or floats peoples’ boats.

Mailboxes for some of Sausalito’s houseboat residents.

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Ciudades Anfibias

By Beatriz Portinari
CLUB + RENFE

 

Los arquitectos del futuro proponen una Atlántida biososteniblecomo respuesta al cambio climático y la utopía de una colonización oceánica.

“El mar no pErtEnEcE a los déspotas. En su superficie, aún pueden ejercer sus inicuos derechos, pelearse, devorarse y transportar todos los horrores terrestres, pero a treinta pies de profundidad, su poder
cesa. ¡Ah, señor, viva usted en el seno de los mares! ¡Solo ahí existe la independencia! ¡Ahí no reconozco señor alguno! ¡Allí soy libre!”. Con estas palabras, Julio Verne convirtió al capitán Nemo y su Nautilus en los pioneros de la llamada “colonización oceánica”, en 1870. Casi 200 años después de 20.000 leguas de viaje submarino, ingenieros y arquitectos ofrecen propuestas viables que van desde hoteles flotantes o flotels a cruceros-residencia para millonarios como The World y finalmente la utopía social y política de las naciones semi-sumergibles que propone el Seasteading Institute.
Pero, ¿por qué querría el hombre vivir en futuristas ciudades acuáticas?
Quizá por placer, por evadir impuestos en aguas internacionales o por pura necesidad medioambiental. Según los expertos en cambio climático y el Informe España: hacia un clima extremo, publicado por Greenpeace en 2014, se espera que a finales del siglo XXI la subida del nivel del mar por el deshielo del Ártico provoque una catástrofe climática y humanitaria que afectará al uno por ciento del territorio de Egipto, el 7% de Países Bajos, el 17% de Bangladesh y hasta el 80% de las Maldivas. En España, las mediciones indican que “durante la segunda mitad del siglo XXI, hasta 202 hectáreas de terreno se encontrarán en riesgo de inundación en la costa vasca. De esta extensión, la mitad corresponde a terrenos urbanizados, tanto zonas industriales como residenciales”. El peligro es real. Las estimaciones más pesimistas dicen que en 2030 habrá 50 millones de refugiados climáticos en el planeta, que ascenderían a 200 millones en el año 2050. ¿Qué hacer con esta población sin tierra? Más allá de previsiones, la evidencia está en el archipiélago de Kiribati, al noreste de Australia, donde 100.000 habitantes buscan territorio para trasladar todo un país porque el suyo ha comenzado a desaparecer bajo el mar. El gobierno de Kiribati ha comprado terreno en las islas Fiji para instalar a su población e incluso se ha planteado los diseños anfibios de uno de los arquitectos más preocupados por el medio ambiente, Vincent Callebaut, autor de los prototipos acuáticos Lilypad, Physalia y el más reciente Aequorea.

‘aRQuibiÓTica’ conTRa El cambio climáTico
“La anticipación urbana es fundamental para crear la ciudad del mañana, que considero imprescindible en la transición energética. Lo que llamo ‘arquibiótica’ es la solución
biotecnológica de la arquitectura a la crisis ambiental que sufrimos. Me inspiro en el biomorfismo, el biomimetismo y
la biónica, donde la ingeniería puede repetir esquemas de la naturaleza y aprovechar las nuevas tecnologías de comunicación”, explica Callebaut, a quien el Ayuntamiento de París
acaba de encargar el rediseño de la ciudad. De momento, sus audaces prototipos todavía no han encontrado océano donde iniciar la revolución verde.
Quien sí ha comenzado la construcción real de un atolón artificial para salvar a su población del mar es el Gobierno de las islas Maldivas, que ha firmado una alianza comercial con la empresa holandesa Dutch Docklands, experta en ganar terreno al agua. Si el entorno paradisíaco de las Maldivas va a desaparecer bajo el mar, nada mejor que empezar a construir una réplica flotante para mantener el turismo. Para ello se ha encargado el proyecto The 5 Lagoons al estudio de arquitectura Waterstudio, que dirige Koen Olthius, considerado “uno de los 100 eco-arquitectos que cambiarán el mundo” y que apuesta por el paso de las ciudades verdes a las ciudades azules sobre el agua. “No debemos tener miedo al posible aumento del nivel del mar, sino verlo como una oportunidad para mejorar nuestras ciudades. Si la costa española se puede ver afectada, debería empezar hoy mismo a considerar soluciones. Estas plataformas flotantes deberían ser eco-sostenibles, más duraderas y flexibles”, cuenta Olthius. El arquitecto va más allá e imagina “bellos parques en el agua, dinámicos, capaces de cambiar de forma y función en cada estación; el turismo ha sido siempre muy importante en la economía española y creo que estas extensiones flotantes podrían atraer más turistas.
Podría aportar al mismo tiempo seguridad y prosperidad a la costa. La tecnología está disponible, sólo sería necesario que fuera económicamente viable”.
El Seasteading Institute, creado en 2008 con importantes inversores como Peter Thiel, fundador de PayPal, va más allá y propone ciudades-estado independientes en aguas internacionales. Sin embargo, su utópico proyecto Floating City aún no ha visto la luz. “Técnicamente las ciudades anfibias son viables, pero deberían responder a una necesidad económica, legal y política real porque de lo contrario el proyecto no es rentable. Si tienes una plataforma que no pertenece a ningún país, no puedes defenderte de ataques piratas, por ejemplo. Para el problema del cambio climático existen soluciones más baratas como se ha visto con el relleno de tierra que está haciendo Singapur en su costa”, advierte el Ingeniero Naval y Oceánico, Miguel Lamas, experto en plataformas flotantes y antiguo colaborador del Seasteading Institute. En su tesis Establecimiento de comunidades autónomas en alta mar: opciones presentes y evolución futura hace un análisis realista de los posibles escenarios. Aunque estas comunidades en alta mar serían beneficiosas porque fomentarían el uso de las energías renovables de origen marino y la protección del hábitat oceánico, hoy por hoy no existe economía ni sociedad que respalde a corto plazo un costoso proyecto como las Ciudades Flotantes autónomas. Parece que la utopía de la colonización oceánica tendrá que esperar.

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AquaTecture, Buildings and cities designed to live and work with water

By Robert Barker & Richard Coutts
RIBA Publishing

 

Water plays a vital role in shaping our built environment, as it has done for centuries. We depend on it, we use it, we live with it and we must respect it. Aquatecture is the first book to outline new ways of ‘designing for water,’ using examples from around the world to illustrate methods of utilizing water innovatively, efficiently and safely.

The first part of the book explores the historical relationship between water and architecture, examining how cities and civilisations have been drawn to water and have attempted to control it. The chapters go on to assess how this relationship has changed over time, and introduce readers to a range of brand new techniques that will revolutionise the way we think about water, design and urban planning. Solutions such as amphibious housing, wet-proof buildings, zero carbon development, rain gardens, flood storage and new methods of waterfront design are discussed and their effectiveness assessed.

Full colour illustrations and international case studies are used throughout the book to bring these new theories to life; practical, technical advice sits alongside truly ground-breaking and ambitious ideas for the future. This book is an ideal reference tool for all architects, urban designers, planners and sustainability experts who have an interest in creating a beautiful, sustainable, intelligent and pleasurable built environment on land, in water and with water.

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