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How floating architecture could help save cities from rising seas

By Kate Baggaley



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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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Can floating homes solve the urban housing crunch?

By Ken Wysocky

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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Why Blue is Better

Annelie Rozeboom
Hi Europe


Architect Koen Olthuis draws on a roll of paper while explaining why we should be building our cities on the water and how he is planning to help the poor with his ideas. “As an architect, you can design towers, but every child can do that in their Minecraft game. Plus none of the towers we build now will be there in 300 years’ time. What I want to leave behind at the end of my career are concepts and ideas, the main idea is that we need to push our cities unto the water.”
Green is good, blue is better is the motto of this Dutch architect. “Our cities don’t change fast enough. We build houses and building and expect them to be used for ever, but our society changes every ten years. If parts of our cities float, we are much more flexible. The center of Amsterdam will always be the same, but the neighborhoods around it change all the time. If buildings float, you can just pull them away and put them somewhere else,” Olthuis told Hi-Europe.

Pict: selimaksan

Working with the Water

One-half of the Netherlands is flood-prone and about one-quarter is below sea level, so it’s no wonder the Dutch spend their time developing ways to incorporate water into their style of living. The philosophy is shifting from fighting the water to living with it, or rather, on it. Instead of trying to claw back more land from the sea, developers are exploring the cost-efficiency of building homes that rise and fall with the tides. “We need to start working with the water in a more intelligent way,” Olthuis says.

This relatively new amphibious architecture is attracting interest from around the world, with floating and amphibious homes and schools now being designed for flood plains everywhere. Amphibious architecture is for both dry and wet conditions, so the houses stay dry and on the ground during normal times and then when the water arrives, they can float up.

Pict: Architect Koen Olthuis – Waterstudio.NL


Olthuis wants to do much more than build a few villas. His architectural bureau Waterstudio.NL has designed complete apartment complexes, which could accommodate hundreds of people. And that is just one project. There is also a 33-meter-tall trees that can float. “Our cities have become sick environments. Green has been pushed away, but bees and other insects need quiet places. Our sea tree is like a cut-up park, which floats at a safe distance from the shore. Nature will take over on the platform and create its own ecosystem.”

Olthuis is also planning to help people in the slums of the world, which are often located on flood plains. “Worldwide you see that the most vulnerable people are being pushed into the water,” he says. This coming month he will send a floating school to Dakar – it’s a container that floats on empty plastic bottles. “The way to upgrade a slum is by installing facilities like schools and internet cafés, or easily movable small buildings that slum entrepreneurs can use. We have designed a kind of toolbox, which have 20 functions inside. This way, the entrepreneurs can choose what it is they need.”
Olthuis exports his concepts all around the globe, including to the flood zones of Hainan Island. “They have land there that they can’t use, but they will if they take our technology.” He also sells floating islands to Dubai. “Making artificial islands out of sand doesn’t work. In Dubai they built some, but they are too far away from the coast, and there is no electricity or drinking water. We are now going to put floating islands in between.”

Pict: Architect Koen Olthuis – Waterstudio.NL

Fight Against the Sea

The Dutch are famous for their age-old fight against the sea, and they have the best flood management technologies in the world. In the beginning, the people in this low country put their homes on artificial hills called terpen, but they soon started building dikes. Popular in the middle ages were wierdijken, earth dikes with a protective layer of seaweed. Later dikes had a vertical screen of timbers backed by an earth bank, but these were replaced by stones after the timber was eaten by shipworms. When the polder windmill was invented in the 15th century, it meant that land could also be drained.

The dikes around the rivers were maintained by the famers who lived next to them. Special water board directors would come to check every three years. This changed radically after a devastating North Sea flood in 1953, which resulted in 1,800 deaths. The government adopted a “never again” attitude, and built dams all around the country, guarding all main river estuaries and sea inlets. According to computer simulations, today’s defenses in the Netherlands are supposed to withstand the kind of flood so severe that it would occur only once in 10,000 years.
“We have pretty much won the fight against the sea,” architect Olthuis says. “The problem now is rainwater. Holland has 3500 low-lying polders enclosed by dykes that function as sponges – they soak up excessive rain water. However, more and more of this land is now used for housing. These are ideal places to build amphibious houses.”

Pict: Architect Koen Olthuis – Waterstudio.NL

Rising Sea Levels

Dutch scientists predict a rise in sea levels of up to 110cm by the year 2100. “We can make the dikes higher, that’s not a problem at all. Technically, all that is possible. The problem with a high dike is that when it breaks, more water will come in,” he says.

There is also growing pressure on existing land. The Dutch government estimates that 500,000 new homes will be needed in the next two decades. Most of the land suitable for conventional building has already been used up, so Dutch architects are encouraged to experiment with new solutions. “The palace in the center of Amsterdam was built on 13.654 wooden poles. It’s the densest forest in the Netherlands. There was real innovation in those times. We are built on places where there shouldn’t be land at all. It’s not about giving up, it’s about continuing to grow,” says Olthuis.

Koen Olthuis

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Holländskt flyt mot stigande havsnivåer

By Sebastian van Baalen


Sebastian van Baalen – 2 år sedan
Han kallas den flytande holländaren och har utsetts till en av världens viktigaste tänkare av the Times. Koen Olthuis är en nederländsk arkitekt som propagerar för att holländarna måste lära sig att leva med stigande havsnivåer. Men hans
idéer har implikationer långt bortom Nederländerna.

Med hjälp av cityappar vill arkitekterna på Waterstudio tillgodose grundläggande behov i världens vattennära slumområden. Foto: Sebastian van Baalen

Nederländerna är ett av världens lägst liggande länder med omkring 20 procent av landets yta under havsnivå och ytterligare 30 procent i riskzonen för omfattande översvämningar. Men trots århundraden av erfarenhet av att bygga vallar, kanaler och pumpstationer menar arkitekten Koen Olthuis att framtiden ligger på vattnet. Han har patent på flytande husgrunder och de senaste tolv åren har han ritat över 100 flytande hus i Nederländerna.

– Lösningen fanns i familjen hela tiden, förklarar han medievant. Min mammas familj jobbade inom skeppsindustrin och min pappas familj var arkitekter. Jag har helt enkelt tagit det bästa av två världar.

Enligt Koen Olthuis är flytande byggnader lösningen på flera olika problem; stigande havsnivåer, platsbrist i storstadsområden och behovet av dynamiska städer. – Städer är inte perfekta, de är korkade. Världen förändras ständigt men städerna är statiska och kan inte anpassas snabbt nog. Genom att bygga på vattnet kan man göra staden dynamisk, funktioner kan distribueras dit de behövs, när de behövs.

Lyxbostäder och konstgjorda öar signerade Koen Olthuis finns bland annat i Dubai och på Maldiverna. I Nederländerna, ett land där platsbristen är akut, har Koen Olthuis idéer resulterat i flytande bostadsområden. I sin bok Float! propagerar han för att användningen av flytande husgrunder kan möjliggöra så kallad depolderisering i Nederländerna, det vill säga att grundvattennivån tillåts stiga i torrlagda områden. Men det var när han uppmärksammade problemet med slumområden som han insåg konceptets fulla potential.

Flytande cityappar

Enligt FN förväntas omkring två miljarder människor leva i slumområden år 2030. Dessa bosättningar är ofta semitemporära då invånarna ständigt hotas med avhysning eftersom de formellt varken äger marken eller sina bostäder, något som försvårar utvecklingen av samhällsfunktioner i dessa områden. Men detta vill Koen Olthuis ändra på med hjälp av flytande cityappar.

– Många av världens slumområden ligger vid eller på vatten. Men när vi gjorde en studie i Bangladesh nämnde sluminvånarna förvånansvärt nog inte översvämningar som det främsta problemet – det var bristen på samhällsfunktioner. Och då är vattnet lösningen!

Precis som man laddar ner appar till sin smarta telefon för att ge den funktioner som saknas menar Koen Olthuis att man kan lägga till samhällsfunktioner i vattennära slumområden. Tillsammans med ett team av unga ingenjörer och arkitekter på sitt företag Waterstudio i Haag har han utvecklat flytande containers som huserar skolor, internetkaféer, sjukhus och sanitetsanläggningar, alla drivna av solpaneler. Dessa kan fraktas till slumområdena till havs. Jiya Benni jobbar med projektet.

– I de flesta slumområden saknas de juridiska förutsättningarna för att utveckla infrastrukturen. Fördelen med dynamiska cityappar är att de inte kräver bygglov. Skulle förutsättningarna förändras kan apparna helt enkelt bogseras bort.

Den första containern är nu på väg att placeras i Dhaka i Bangladesh. Men flytande cityappar ska främst ses som ett socialt företag enligt Jiya Benni.
– Varje cityapp har en affärsidé. Tanken är att lokala entreprenörer i slumstäderna kan hyra en city app på lång sikt och betala av kostnaden över tid. När appen har spelat ut sin roll i ett visst område kan den helt enkelt flyttas vidare. Lite som ett mikrolån.

Samtidigt erkänner Koen Olthuis att kostnaden för cityapparna än så länge är för hög.

– En flytande skola kostar för närvarande 45 000 dollar. Vi måste minska priset till 18 000 dollar för att det ska bli ekonomiskt hållbart.

Marinbiologer har bland annat påpekat att flytande byggnader kan störa de marina ekosystemen. Men Jiya Benni ser inte det som ett problem. – Jämfört med att torrlägga land är flytande byggnader definitivt mer miljövänliga. Visst kan konstruktionerna påverka mängden ljus som når botten, men det går att lösa med kreativ design. Vi samarbetar med oceanografen Jean-Michel Cousteau för att utveckla våra cityappar till naturliga ekosystem för fiskar.

Vatten som möjlighet Koen Olthuis framstår lika mycket som visionär som arkitekt. I hans visioner ingår flytande grönområden, flytande flygplatser och mobila och flytande flyktingläger.

Men vad är science fiction och vad är verkligen möjligt?
Faktum är att flytande städer har existerat sedan länge och stora slumområden ligger i dag på vattnet. Ett exempel är slummen Makoko i Nigera som är hem åt tiotusentals människor. Liknande samhällen återfinns i Hong Kong och Vietnam. Investeringar i sådana områden är ofta riskfyllda då infrastruktur riskerar att förstöras vid översvämningar. Även rikare länder har insett såväl nyttan som det estetiska med flytande byggnader; Seoul har en flytande ö på Hanfloden, Rotterdam ett mobilt konferens- och utställningskomplex på Nieuwe Maasfloden och Bristol en flytande plantträdgård. Men för Koen Olthuis handlar det om att förändra hur vi förstår staden.

– Mitt budskap är att vatten inte enbart är ett hot, utan också en möjlighet. Jag hoppas att det vi gör, mina idéer, kan spridas och locka människor att tro på idén. Min vision är att förbättra städer i hela världen.

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Living Above and Below the Water

By Christopher F. Schuetze
The New York Times


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.”

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Portrait:, The Netherlands


Archi-News, February 2015

Facing the city planning and climate changing challenges, the Dutch office chooses to work principally towards flexible strategies and large scale floating architecture projects proposing sustainable solutions.

In the Netherlands, one quarter of the country being under sea level, the architects are considering the ways to rethink the built environment. Koen Olthuis (*1971) is one of them. Founder of Waterstudio, he studied architecture and industrial design at the Delft Technology University. As per his words, we treat our cities as if they were static and we don’t stop erecting fixed urban elements, which after 50 years become obsolete and useless. But the to-morrow’s city is dynamic, hybrid, flexible and environment friendly, a moving town, which reinvents itself constantly. The architect’s work is more precise in order to especially respond to the pressing needs of climatic changes. Koen Olthuis proposes to live on the water, with the water. The first town created in this spirit is under construction between The Hague and Rotterdam. Called « The New Water », this 1200 house urban development takes place in the polder zone, intentionally filled with water after a few centuries of artificial draining.
Strict rules limit the volume authorized above sea level. This constraint gives life to a rather sophisticated design and to interesting spatial solutions, particularly a naturally lighted basement, large glass surfaces, parts with wood and a white Corian® curved frame running along the façade. First one of the 6 buildings foreseen in this project, Citadel is also, with its 60 luxury apartments, the first floating building in Europe. Easy to reach from the side by a floating road, the building is composed of 180 modular elements, placed on concrete foundations. The norms are identical to those of a house on dry land. Another element of the New Water project’s first part: the Waterfront villa has a concrete base with a boathouse and a swimming pool. Three U-shaped volumes enable to optimize the viewpoints at each level. Corian® is used as the main covering material.
Waterstudio develops a revolutionary concept for the cruise ships terminal. A sculptural triangular floating construction (700 x 700 m) situated outside the bank, disposes of more than 160 000sqm of conference halls, cinemas, shopping areas, spas, restaurants, hotels, etc. The triangular ring raises at one place to create a smaller interior harbour. Covered with aluminium panels and partly with photovoltaic cells, the structure anchors itself to the seabed by cables with shock absorbers, enabling a vertical flexibility, whilst ensuring horizontal stability. Modern, light and transparent, the De Hoef villa shows in a concrete way that floating architecture has now reached the same level as its land counterpart. Realized with a steel frame, the construction is an amphibian structure, floating on water but surrounded by land on three sides. The choice of this type of structure results from the fact that « normal » houses are not allowed in this peat landscape.
With the project See Tree, Waterstudio proposes a new concept for the high-density urban green points. With many layers of trees, this floating structure, unattainable for man, uses the petrol offshore platforms’ technology. It would be the first 100% floating object designed and built for flora and fauna.

At the other end of the world, Koen Olthuis undertakes a huge project: design a floating town in the Maldives. The masterplan proposes a solution to the dramatic situation created by the rising sea level. These floating developments, especially, have a real positive impact on the poor communities living near the coast. The architect reminds that the most exposed cities are Mumbai, Dhaka and Calcutta because of their huge populations threatened by the water level increase. In these cities, millions of people live in dense slums along the water and are vulnerable to floods especially during the rainy season. “With the City Apps, based on standard maritime containers, we want to use the technical knowledge coming from our floating projects for the wealthy people.” They can be compared to Smartphone with applications adapted to different needs, such as a special programme for slums. In view of their flexibility and small size, the City Apps use the space available on water and are very convenient to be used as residences or schools, for instance.

The objective is to reach 10 000 containers in 5 years, rented in the whole world. “The importance given to slums has opened new opportunities and has put me in touch with many interesting and influential people who understand the necessity for the architects to use their influence and creativity to change the lives of millions of human beings, underlines also Koen Olthuis”.
His approach to improve the coastal towns throughout the world with these floating urban components is a real challenge. « It is just as if we had discovered a small part of the water potential to make the cities more resilient, sure and flexible. I believe that our projects and those of many architects, who use the floating technology as a tool, will open new norms for the cities ».

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Koen Olthuis, Hong Kong design week

By Today’s living


The business of Design Week (BODW), organized by the Hong Kong Design Centre, has been a key event for the local design community since 2002. BODW 2014 saw the arrival of leading designers from Sweden and all over the world,, carrying with them invaluable insights from the fields of architecture, fashion, technology and culture. Today’s Living talked with six of the design heavyweights present at this year’s event, namely Anna Hessle, Erik Nissen Johanson, Koen Olthuis, Lisa Lindstrom, Thomas Eriksson and Marcus Engman. In this issue, we introduce you to three of these interior and architectural leaders, all of whom are masters of their industry.



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Floating solutions for upgrading wet-slums

By Berry Gersonius

Innovations for water and development


Among the many challenges caused by the rise of global urban population is the accompanied growth of slum population. Around one billion people live in slums – most of them being close to open water. Being most vulnerable to floods, they are least attractive for upgrading investments. Neglected by civil authorities and confounded by a lack of space and money along with vulnerability, these already precarious slums are pushed into a negative spiral.

Using a bottom-up approach, the Floating City Apps Foundation, aims to upgrade waterfront slums with small scale instant solutions. Comparable to adjusting a smart phone with apps according to changing needs, the infrastructure in a slum can be adjusted by adding functions with City Apps.

These apps are floating developments built using a standard sea-freight container. The container is assembled in the Netherlands and shipped to the wet-slum where it is placed on a locally constructed floating foundation. Because of their flexibility and small size they are suitable for installing and upgrading facilities for sanitation, housing, communication etc. They can be added to a slum using the available space on water.


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New Water Villa: ver van de functionele Nederlandse architectuur

By Bob Witman


Opgetrokken uit corian in plaats van baksteen, bochtig in plaats van strak. Tussen de kassen van Naaldwijk staat een fraai ‘net geen herenhuis’.

De New Water Villa. Beeld Koen Olthuis

Het ziet eruit als een villa waar James Bond graag cocktails drinkt, met precies de goede space age-achtige uitstraling die zo populair was in jaren zestig, toen we de maan bewandelden. New Water Villa ligt in de polder bij Naaldwijk, verscholen achter kassen. Een woning in de vorm van een boemerang, geheel opgetrokken uit wit corian, een composiet dat vrijwel alleen nog wordt toegepast als meubelmateriaal. Met zijn U-vormige hoeklijsten oogt de bungalow als een sexy ufo.

New Water Villa is een ontwerp van Koen Olthuis van architectenbureau Waterstudio. Net als een ander, onlangs gebouwd spectaculair woonhuis, Villa Kogelhof van Paul de Ruiter Architecten in Zeeland, is ook deze villa het resultaat van dapper particulier opdrachtgeverschap. Olthuis kreeg van de bewoners de vrije hand: het huis, het interieur en de tuin: hij mocht het allemaal vormgeven. De kwekersfamilie uit Naaldwijk wilde een herenhuis, maar liet zich verrassen.

Een herenhuis is het niet geworden. Ze kregen geen baksteen, maar wit composiet met glas en hout. Geen rechte plattegrond met gangen en kamertjes, maar golvende vertrekken die naadloos in elkaar overlopen. Geen oprijlaan met klinkers, maar asfalt. Geen Franse siertuin, maar kunstgras en hier en daar een polletje groen.

Architect Olthuis bouwt niet vaak op land. Zijn niche is drijvende architectuur. In Nederland, maar ook in het buitenland, waar hij het materiaal corian eerder toepaste voor stadsbouw op water bij de laaggelegen Malediven.

Corian is een relatief nieuwe kunststof, althans, in het buitengebruik. Dat is altijd tricky, omdat het onzeker is hoe het veroudert. Maar corian is keihard, duur, polijstbaar en houdt zich volgens Olthuis uitstekend, zelfs in een zoutwateromgeving.

De New Water Villa. Beeld Koen Olthuis


Wat opvalt in Naaldwijk is niet alleen de onorthodoxie van het materiaal, maar ook de vorm. De villa heeft een heel leesbare contour, bijna kinderlijk eenvoudig. ‘Readable architecture’, noemt het bureau dat zelf.

Sensueel, makkelijk na te tekenen en ver weg van de functionele architectuur die in Nederland gangbaar is. Waar vorm altijd een ratio heeft en mooi nooit alleen maar mooi mag zijn. Dit huis is eerder benaderd als een product waarbij vorm en materiaal de dienst uitmaken, dan als een werk van architectuur waar volume en schaal leidend zijn.

Olthuis is opgeleid als industrieel ontwerper en als architect. Het is verleidelijk om in het Zuid-Hollandse kassenlandschap te zeggen: ja-dat-kun-je-wel-zien-ook. Zijn aanpak van de buitenzijde loopt door in het interieur, waar hij hetzelfde materiaal gebruikt als buiten: een keukenblad van gebogen corian, de keukenkastjes en het corian haardmeubel zijn bekleed met gecapitonneerde stof.

De slaapruimtes zitten in het souterrain, omdat boven het maaiveld slechts een beperkt aantal vierkante meters mocht worden bebouwd. De tuin is oorverdovend simpel, met een strookje kunstgras tegen de voet van de gevel aan, om de scheiding tussen het groen en het witte corian zo scherp mogelijk te houden.

De boemerang ligt met de holle kant naar het water en de polder gericht met een doorlopende glaswand die op een exceptionele wijze in een hoek van 90 graden buigt. Dat glas geeft, zowel buiten als binnen, onvermoede weerkaatsingen waardoor je je soms in het lachspiegelhuis van de kermis waant.

De bolle zijde van de villa, gekeerd naar de oprijlaan, is relatief gesloten. De elleboogpunt van de boemerang herbergt de hoofdentree. De bewoners gingen akkoord met de moderniteiten van de architect, maar eisten wel een entree. Dus kregen ze een voordeur met een statig natuurstenen trapje.

Het bochtenwerk is cruciaal. Het zit in het interieur, het glas en natuurlijk in de kopse buitenzijdes, die de villa het karakteristiek geven van twee platgedrukte U’s die op hun zij liggen. De keuze voor die rondingen leidde voor de architect automatisch tot het materiaal corian. Dat kun je verhitten en in een mal gieten, waardoor je volmaakt gladde rondingen krijgt. Iets wat je met steen nooit kunt nadoen,

De binnenruimte voelt prettig aan, door het bochtenwerk ontstaat een natuurlijke compartimentering. Het gebogen glas is spectaculair, maar dat corian is wel heel erg wit. Je loopt constant rond met de gedachte en-wie-moet-dat-allemaal-schoonhouden?

Maar volgens de corianfabrikant is het onderhoudsvriendelijk en duurzaam, hoewel kostbaar in de basisprijs. Voor de vorm van het huis is het corian ononvertroffen. Het is van dichtbij net zo smooth als op de foto. Dat kun je niet altijd zeggen in de architectuur.

De New Water Villa. Beeld Koen Olthuis


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‘Floating Homes’ technology has demonstrated usefulness

By Fane Lozman
Miami Herald



It is an unfortunate reality that those who currently live on Eastern Shores in Maule Lake will have to abandon their homes in the next 30 years because of rising tides. The only residents around Maule Lake will be the Amirillah floating islands, and any new developments built after Miami 21-like building codes are enacted.

The current Eastern Shores residents should be making plans now for where they will be moving once North Miami Beach condemns their residences for sea water intrusion. Instead, their fears are focused on the floating islands and reflect a total lack of knowledge about floating technology that has been proven over the last century.

Just like floating oil rigs moored to the ocean floor survive Category 5 hurricanes without being torn off their moorings, floating islands use similar technology. The land-based houses around Maule Lake would be swept clean off their concrete pads as the eye wall of a hurricane similar to Andrew made a direct hit, while the Maule Lake floating islands wouldn’t slide an inch off their permanent moorings.

Even more impressive is that these foam-cored, reinforced concrete islands are unsinkable, even after being pelted with 200-mph, windswept debris from the destroyed houses on shore.

The West Coast of the United States has thousands of floating homes that are a welcome addition to their communities in Washington, Oregon and California. The Maule Lake floating-island residences will introduce a new generation of floating homes to the East Coast. They will be completely self-sustaining and have the “greenest” footprint of any dwelling in South Florida.

The landlubbers whose attitude is that “I got to Maule Lake first and no one else should ever join me” forget one thing. The actual lake bottom is privately owned, and the submerged lands do not belong to those who are fortunate to live on its borders. Perhaps a 50-foot-high floating privacy screen running on the east side of Maule Lake would be soothing to these residents so they would not have to be jealous of their floating neighbors?

The floating islands will also help solve a simple reality that the political leaders of North Miami Beach can no longer ignore: New sources of tax revenue will be desperately needed to supplement the hidden pension demands of civil employees (i.e. police) over the coming years.

The 29 floating islands that will be assessed at $12.5 million each will bring in a staggering $363 million in new property assessments. This windfall for the city will be further magnified by the increased tax assessments for the Eastern Shores residents as their droopy neighborhood wakes up to become part of South Florida’s most unique residential community.

Like any new technology, whether it was the Wright brothers’ first airplane flight, or the $3 billon Perdido oil rig anchored in 2,438 meters of water in the Gulf of Mexico, there are “talking heads” that will refuse to accept the inevitable march of technology. It makes one wonder: How many Eastern Shores residents still have horse and buggies in their back yards?


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