Coastal Processes, Hazards, and Society




Modern Floating Houses

Driven by a lack of space on land to expand, the proximity of water has driven the concept of a houseboat to extremes in Amsterdam and around the world. Originally docked in canals, houseboats are now taking a new shape. They are redesigned to be just as good, if not better, than their land counterparts, and are taking shape over water. Small communities of floating houses are rapidly evolving, to fill the growing need. Watch the following video to learn more about the new construction of floating houses.

Video: Living on Water: Sustainable Housing in Amsterdam (5:40)

Click for a transcript of the Living on Water: Sustainable Housing in Amsterdam video.

With more than 500 inhabitants per square kilometer, the Netherlands are in the top 5 most densely populated countries in the world. So if we need to allocate more space for service water, why not live on it? This is in line with a dutch planning strategy known as meervoudig ruimtegebruik, multiple use of space. Houseboats became popular in the 1960s and 70s when students could not find affordable housing and squatted on barges instead. Today, there are about 2,500 houseboats moored in Amerstdam waters. Usually, each house is a separate entity, moored to the quay and equipped with its own connections to electricity, water, and sewage.

More recently, though, there are experiments with larger floating settlements. At Haveneiland - West, which belongs to the new IJburg archipelago in the east of Amsterdam, there's a new neighborhood of 34 converted barges. The old ships are up to 42 meters long and are moored at a communal jetty running along the quay. They can be reached via two entrance pavilions above the water, which also house bike garages and letterboxes. It might not look like it from the outside, but each houseboat offers around 200 square meters of living space. Inside, they are unexpectedly bright and spacious. Some interiors have been designed by architects, such as this one by Ana Architecten. It hardly gives away that you're inside the belly of a ship built in 1957.

While the barges still convey the feeling of living on a ship, there's another development just next door at Steigereiland, which strikes a new path. In a locked-off part of the lake, two neighborhoods with floating houses have been realized. The master plan for both was made by architect Marlies Rohmer. The northern part consists of 40 individual floating houses designed by various architects and was realized around 2012. In between the houses, there's not a lot of space, but it's enough to park your boats or even create a little terrace. Some inhabitants have made tiny floating gardens to accompany their floating home. The floating houses have a concrete base that contains a semi-underwater story. The air contained in this tub, lets them float. The lightweight construction on top is made of wood. In total, they offer around 150 square meters of living space.

The other side of the area, Steigereiland - Zuid, was designed as a floating community by architect Marlies Rohmer. The design of the floating houses is based on a modular system with detached houses, duplex houses, and triple houses. In total, there are 55 floating homes, but also three stilted houses, and seventeen dike houses. In social terms, it is a mixed water community with owner-occupied as well as rental houses. Inhabitants can choose from a range of pontoons and terraces as extensions of their homes. Like on the other side of the lake, each house has its own connections to electricity, water, and sewage, hanging in tunnels under the jetties and in plastic tubes under their buildings.

And here is the reason why the envelope of the house is the same on both sides area. They all have to fit through this little lock. The wharf where they were produced lies in a village in the north of Lake Isomer. After construction, the houses were dragged across the lake, maneuvered through the lock, and then moored in their final location.

The latest floating development in Amsterdam takes the story one step further. Schoonschip is a community with 30 water plots in a canal. The urban plan was developed by the architecture firm Space & Matter but within the plan, each house was designed individually. Schoonschip has the aim to be a resilient and entirely circular development. That's why all the floating homes have solar panels on the roof, generate energy with heat pumps, and store it in in-house batteries. There's only one connection to the national energy grid. Thanks to a smart grid, inhabitants can trade energy that they generate amongst each other. Wastewater from toilets and showers is treated and also converted into energy. Inhabitants don't own cars, but share a pool of electric cars and cargo bikes. These floating houses work exactly like the ones on Steigereiland, and they are also moored at jetties. But you can see there is a lot more wood used here. For the jetties, as well as for the facades. And there is another important difference to earlier projects. This neighborhood, home to 48 families, was a result of a bottom-up initiative and participation process. That's why there's a strong community feel, also expressed in the wide jetties, which serve as communal exterior space. Schoonschip is the most recent and most sustainable floating development in the Netherlands. It probably won't be the last, considering the challenges of climate change in a country that lies largely below sea level, and suffers from increasing rainfall. It is also another manifestation of the paradigm shift from fighting against water to living with water and enjoying it.