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First Indian Resilient Floating House Prototype, the Bihar City App, is nearing completion

The integration of modern innovation with traditional practices signals the beginning of a more sustainable and adaptable future for Bihar’s floodplains.

Waterstudio initiated its applied research project on City Apps over a decade ago to address challenges in flood-prone areas. City Apps combine standardized systems with locally available materials and craftsmanship. These innovative solutions encompass a variety of functions, including sanitation, healthcare, energy production, community workspaces, and other essential facilities. City Apps aim to provide adaptable and sustainable infrastructure to effectively meet the needs of communities in these regions.

At Centre of Resilience in Bihar, and with its founder, Kumar Prashant, Waterstudio has found a valuable local partner to expand the City Apps project into India, marking the initial steps in aiding the people of this flood-affected region to construct a brighter future.

The prototype developed in this project represents the first step towards the realization of the City App vision for adaptive development on floodplains, with the ultimate goal of scaling up to thousands of locally built standardized floating units. Following the testing phase, a comprehensive study will be conducted to measure the broader impacts of this groundbreaking project. The data and insights gathered will form the basis for the development of long-term strategies for sustainable floodplain management.

The Netherlands respond to flooding with swimming homes

Deutsche Welle, Susanne Henn

The Netherlands respond to flooding with swimming homes

Do houses have to be built on solid land? In response to the climate-induced rise in water level, the Netherlands are turning to an unusual new kind of architecture. Soon, some neighborhoods may float on water.

Dutch architect Koen Olthuis says it’s better for a country that’s threatened by water to learn how to live with it than fight against it – an approach that is central to his work.

The Netherlands are one of the most densely populated yet also flattest countries in Europe. The offices of Olthuis’ firm are beneath sea-level, as is about a third of the terrain in the Netherlands. Water must constantly be pumped back into the sea.

“We pump away about as much water daily as Tokyo and its surroundings use in a year – an incredible amount,” said Olthuis, who decided to specialize in water architecture.

Making flooding valuable

The architect and his team have developed a concept for their country’s future: If the Dutch eventually have to allow water to take over some of the nation’s coastal land surface, the wet area should be used for houses and apartments.

Areas threatened by flooding account for about five percent of the Netherlands’ surface. Currently, they are protected from being overtaken by the sea through the use of dams. Keeping this land dry costs the nation billions annually.

Near The Hague, a joint public and private project called “Het Nieuwe Water” is underway, which foresees building 1,200 new buildings within the next eight to ten years. Some of these are to be floating luxury apartments. At present, though, there is little to be seen in the area – just a 2.5-kilometer (1.5-mile) slushy field occupied by a few homes, greenhouses and a pond.

“First we will build, then we will allow the area to be flooded,” explained Paul van Zundert, an engineer, who will ensure that the residents do not encounter any problems once building begins. “That will be the biggest challenge that arises from this new dual approach to using the water.”

The economic utility of the new buildings will hopefully compensate for the loss of the area’s greenhouses.

Floating neighborhoods

Architect Olthuis would eventually like to move with his wife and three kids to the flooded coastal area. A single family home there will not be more expensive than a traditional home, he pointed out.

“People aren’t interested in having to pay even extra to live on the water. So the only way to go about things is to make the cost of living on the water match that of living on land,” he said. Depending on how it is equipped, a floating house will cost several hundred thousand euros.

The new generation of floating houses has little to do with traditional house boats. Olthuis foresees large platforms which contain everything that belongs in a conventional neighborhood: streets, greenery and rows of houses.

“Climate change is causing water to take up space in cities – area that cities can’t afford to give up,” said the architect. Water collecting in a city center is worthless, he added, but if it can be used as a building site, then it becomes valuable.

The idea is taking hold abroad

By using flexible tubes, the floating platforms will be provided with electricity and hooked up to the sewage system. Oil platforms currently use similar technologies. But the plans go beyond just building houses on the water.

According to Olthuis, the company Waterstudio.NL has already received requests from foreigners interested in floating water parks or golf courses.

The city of Seoul has inquired about a floating park for its downtown area. There is no land available in the area, but there is a river that runs through the city. And a floating mosque in Dubai is also in the works. The mosque will only be reachable by boat, and it is equipped for local climate conditions.

“We will pump sea water through the walls of the structure so as to cool the building from 50 to 30 degrees Celsius. That will save a lot of energy,” Olthuis said.

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Dutch Answer to Flooding: Build Houses that Swim

Der Spiegel

Looking out from the terrace, heaven and earth merge into a grey blur. Heavy rain pours so incessantly that one would expect Anne van der Molen to be getting just a little nervous.

“Tomorrow does not look any better, according to the weather forecast,” she says, calmly sipping her coffee. She does so in spite of the fact that her house stands directly on the Maas dyke – on the side facing the river, to be exact. Yet the nurse, sitting on her garden chair under the awning, feels as cozy and safe as if she were “snowed in up in a mountain hut, with a log fire glowing and the pantry full.” The Maas can go on rising as much as it likes, for all she cares. Her house can swim. As the water level climbs, the house itself can move up five meters, if necessary. “The elements don’t bother me,” she says.

There are 37 houses strung along this branch of the Maas like a row of beads. At first glance, they seem quite unremarkable. Two storeys high, semicircular metal roofs and yellow, green or blue facades – hardly any clues let on that these are The Netherlands’ first amphibious houses. The cellar, in this case, is not built into the earth. Instead, it is on a platform – and is much more than a mere storage room. The hollow foundation of each house works in the same way as the hull of a ship, buoying the structure up above water. To prevent the swimming houses from floating away, they slide up two broad steel posts – and as the water level sinks, so they sink back down again.

“The columns have been driven deep into solid ground,” explains Dick van Gooswilligen from the Dura Vermeer construction company. “They are even strong enough to withstand currents you would find on the open seas.” Gooswilligen is currently busy guiding dozens of journalists from the United States through the watertight settlement in the Maasbommel district, close to Nijmegen. “As global warming causes the sea level to rise, this is the solution,” he explains into a microphone. “Housing of this type is the future for the delta regions of the world, the ones which face the greatest danger.”

Soundbites like these are just what Americans want to hear these days. Hurricane Katrina and her lesser cousin Hurricane Rita have sparked interest in the low lying Netherlands. Hordes of hydraulic engineers from Louisiana or Texas are making the pilgrimage to the North Sea coastline to look at the fortifications. The inland river dykes are also considered exemplary models.

The Netherlands Sinks a little Lower Every Year

German catastrophe management teams are just as curious. Climate patterns today suggest that torrential rainfall is something we can expect plenty more of in the future. This year’s floods in the Alps or those along the River Elbe three years ago could well be warning signs of what awaits us. Climatologists predict that precipitation in The Netherlands could increase as much as 25 percent. At the same time, because of the small kingdom’s dense population, there is increasing pressure to build in areas prone to flooding. Already, though, the country defies the laws of physics simply by existing: More than a quarter of its land lies below sea level. And, year by year, the land is sinking a little bit lower. The Dutch protect themselves from going under through a network of canals and pumps. It is not only the sea which threatens the mighty barrage on the coast. On the other side lies the Rhine River, which branches out and forms a wide-reaching delta with the Maas. To prevent such huge swaths of land from flooding in summer and winter storms, the Dutch are designating more and more land along their rivers as flood zones. Within the next few decades, the area will compose close to 500,000 hectares — or about twice the size of the German state of Saarland.

This will only be possible if people, industry and agriculture can be successfully relocated to safe territory – which is hard to imagine, given the resistance mounted by some of those affected. Officials have, therefore, decided to demonstrate first of all that it is possible to live in the so-called flood zones. In early October, 15 test areas were announced. A stringent ban on construction in these areas has now been lifted – provided buildings constructed are amphibious houses and nothing else. This means that, in a worst case scenario, excess water from flooded rivers can still be diverted this way.

“You cannot fight water, you have to learn how to live with it”, states Sybilla Dekker, the minister in charge. Her department has arranged a competition for engineers, urban planners and architects to design living accommodation, greenhouses, parking lots and factories which would float and could grow into “waterproof” towns.

One of the leading architects in this relatively new discipline of maritime architecture is Koen Olthuis. His aptly named office has already designed a number of contemporary houseboats with a parking deck for the car and lower deck storage for a motorboat. Now, his team is even coming up with plans for office buildings a hundred meters in height that “swim.” The key to making this idea a reality is a patented technique whereby the foundation of the construction can be transformed into a float. A foam core is encased in concrete, with steel cables securing it against the pull of potential currents. Individual pontoons, whether for residential blocks or chicken coops, can be joined to one another like Lego blocks. As a result, a maritime settlement is born.

“This construction model is built to last at least one hundred years,” Olthuis says. If anything should happen to the foundation, there is no need to call in the construction company. Instead, the whole thing can be taken to the dockyard.

Family “arks” of the future

The architect from Rijswijk hopes to tap into a worldwide trend. Increasing numbers of people are gravitating towards the water, out of necessity, for financial gain or, in some cases, quite simply for the wonderful view. “Thanks to watertight buildings, this impulse need not be fateful,” he says. His bobbing buildings have not only found favor in the Polder lands, he has also prepared concepts for Dubai.

The first town based on this model, numbering 12,000 houses, might conceivably be built close to Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport. The Netherlands are particularly low in this area. When planes come in for a landing here, one can see countless rectangular islets amid a picturesque, watery landscape. Canals weave their way like veins through the swaying reeds of green land which invariably opens out into ponds or lakes. By the year 2010, amphibious houses like those in Maasbommel may well form the first residential area here – or perhaps greenhouses will dominate the landscape, like the one opened earlier this month by the minister of agriculture in The Hague.

At this stage, such model houses cost more than conventional housing. The amphibious buildings in Maasbommel cost approximately €250,000 to €300,000 for a 120 square meter home. This is due in part to the flexible nature of the construction which also plays a role in creating feed lines for gas, electricity, drinking water and drainage. Like the foundation, they, too, have to be able to adapt to the changes in height of the premises.

But, when the floating construction model goes more mainstream, the price of a one family “ark” should drop dramatically. “At the end of the day, we will save on a lot of the costs conventional building methods incur doing things like securing foundations in soft ground. We won’t have to contend with that,” Olthuis points out. It remains an utter mystery to him why water-proofed construction is not yet common practice.

He can only watch and shake his head as his television broadcasts fresh pictures of floods in one part of the world or another. “Those people, breaking their backs piling sandbags on their doorsteps, I feel really sorry for them.”

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