Dutch build ‘floating houses’ on water

Arnhem, November 20:

People in the Netherlands have always found it tricky to keep their feet dry, as half the country lies below sea level. But they are now starting to live on water in amphibious houses. These homes look very ordinary. But when the water level rises, the house simply rises as well, up to 12 feet if necessary. As the water recedes, it slowly sinks back to its original position.

“Hopefully there will be floods this winter,” says Anne Von der Molen.

No weather forecast could make the 45-year-old nurse nervous. The river can go on rising as much as it likes, she affirms, adding, “The elements don’t bother me at all.”

Molens’ amphibious home is two stories high with semicircular roofs, clapboard exteriors and a blue facade. Inside, the house is bright, breezy, split-level, offering a spectacular view over the riverbed. Flexible feed lines for gas, electricity, drinking water and drainage adapt to the changes in the height of the premise.

A wooden frame keeps the amphibious homes as light as possible. Broad steel posts, driven deep into solid ground, act as an anchor and prevent the buildings from floating off during a flood.

“The columns are even strong enough to withstand currents you would find on the open seas,” says Dick van Gooswilligen of construction company Dura Vermeer. So far, there has been no acid test for the amphibious houses. It is expected that once every five years the water rises to more than 70 cm, a level that will lift the premises off the ground.

For centuries, the Dutch have reclaimed land from the sea, protecting their homes with a complex network of dikes, canals and electrical pumps. In some parts of the Netherlands, however, dikes seem to be relics of a bygone age.

Instead of struggling to hold back the water, the Dutch have begun to tackle their dilemma by building floating houses such as the 36 colourful wooden ones strung along the flood-prone river Maas, 85 km south of Amsterdam.

After the recent catastrophe in New Orleans, hordes of engineers and journalists from the US have come to visit the watertight settlement in the Maasbommel district.

“As global warming causes the sea level to rise, this is the solution,” says Van Gooswilligen, an engineer. He considers floating houses the future for the world’s delta regions that face the greatest dangers from flooding.

Ken Olthuis, a leading maritime architect, is working on the basis of another technique, using Thailand and Venice as sources of inspiration.

After designing a number of contemporary houseboats, Olthius’ team at ‘Waterstudio.nl’ has now started work on plans for 100 metre high office buildings that swim on a foam core encased in concrete. “Holland is an experimental playground for living with water, and water can also be a building ground,” Olthuis says.