Water world: floating architecture is a booming business, thanks to Dutch designers

Water world: floating architecture is a booming business, thanks to Dutch designers

A famous saying credits the Dutch for having literally created the Netherlands. This does justice to Holland’s formidable man-made infrastructure that renders buildable the land – half of which would have otherwise been regularly flooded. Today, as climate change causes sea levels to rise, floods are becoming a global challenge. With 75 per cent of the world’s ever-growing megacities located in delta areas, large-scale construction on water seems to be only a matter of time.

Dutch designers, architects and developers are already pioneering this next step: in Rotterdam, one of the world’s biggest ports, the team at property developer Beladon combines expertise in maritime technology and agriculture to build floating farms for alternative fresh food production. Public Domain Architects has proposed floating homes as a solution for a flood-prone new development area – the buoyant Harbour Loft Apartments will simply move up and down in sync with the water.

Reinforcing Rotterdam’s reputation as an innovation hub, Aqua Dock – a cooperative venture involving the municipality, the port authority and the RDM Centre of Expertise of the Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences – provides a test site for innovation in floating structures.

The Schoonschip by architecture firm Space & Matter is a design for a sustainable floating neighbourhood in northern Amsterdam

Meanwhile, the emerging Floating Community in the city’s Rijnhaven area gets ready to host a flock of Wikkelboats. These floating versions of the already popular Wikkelhouse – a modular house built with multiple layers of waterproofed cardboard – will act as a showcase for new products and services that reduce the carbon footprint while improving the quality of life.

Amsterdam saw its first floating neighbourhood rise in 2011 in Ijburg. Today, researchers from MIT are collaborating with the local Institute for Advanced Metropolitan Solutions to develop a fleet of autonomous multi-purpose boats for Amsterdam’s canals, while architects at Space & Matter and project managers at Waterloft have put together a building group to create a new sustainable floating neighbourhood for some 46 families.

Opportunities for experiments with floating architecture are emerging across Europe. In France, a recent competition Reinventing the Seine has made 41 underused riverside sites in Paris, Rouen and Le Havre available for creative revision. As a result, Paris’ existing floating hotspots – the Josephine Baker swimming pool, the Petit Bain concert venue, and the OFF hotel – will be joined by a bakery, a waste management facility and an urban art centre. Shared by Paris and Le Havre (a major port at the Seine estuary) will be the Barges & Berges project with youth hostels, a co-working space and a sports centre housed on stilt structures and barges.

Two projects for London – Denizen Works’ floating church and community hub that will navigate between the city’s brownfield redevelopment areas and Gensler’s proposal for UK Parliament’s temporary quarters on the Thames – contribute to the world’s rapidly expanding catalogue of new waterborne architecture.

Here, we scope out some of the most innovative concepts, experiments and projects floating on the horizon.