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Modern Aquatic Architecture: 5 Homes Around the World that Make the Case for Living on Water
Following findings from a study published in the Nature Ecology & Evolution journal this April, it has become public knowledge that the phenomenon dubbed the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (an area of 620,000 square miles between California and Hawaii) is serving as host to an entire coastal ecosystem. Marine wildlife is using the massive area compiled of human plastic waste as a floating habitat, and scientists are shocked at the number of species that have managed to establish life in this otherwise hostile environment.
The news once again brings into sharp focus not only pressing issues of climate change and ocean pollution but also the question of environmentally-induced migration, even at a microbial level. Architecture is moving into more and more experimental realms when it comes to considering locations for the communities of our future – and rising sea levels have promoted water to the top of the list. But these deliberations are not as recent as one might think: floating cities have been around for centuries and individual homes on water are common in areas of Benin, Peru or Iraq, among others.
We dive deeper into what the evolution of such water-based housing looks like and showcase 5 residential projects from our ArchDaily catalog that exemplify a forward-thinking life on the water.
15 of the Best and Most Ambitious Floating Architecture Projects
When considering upcoming and newly built construction that takes cues from communities such as the Ma’dan in Southern Iraq or the Uros on Peru’s Lake Titicaca, both of which have been creating homes out of natural fibers for centuries, an emphasis on local materials as well as energy efficiency emerge as two of the guiding principles.
Danish Maritime Architecture Studio MAST has delivered not one, but two proposals for floating habitats in the last year alone: the “Land on Water” project imagines a solution to environmental migration that takes the shape of individual residences with flat-pack floating foundations for easy transport and assembly; and an even more recent proposal for a public park in Milan, Italy, aims to open up a lake by constructing a series of islands and piers that connect visitors to the mainland. Locally sourced and lightweight materials such as timber are paramount in both.
Amsterdam’s Floating Schoonship Neighborhood on the city’s Johan van Hasselt Canal designed by Dutch architecture practice Space&Matter upscales the idea to a compound of 46 dwellings fully equipped with decentralized and sustainable energy, water and waste systems that already serves as home to over 100 residents. The most recent – and luxurious – option: a floating ‘living pod’ created by Panama-based company Ocean Builders. Under construction off the coast of Panama now with more locations to follow, the individual homes are created on pillars that reach out of the water and come in two different iterations created by Dutch architect Koen Olthuis and his team at Waterstudio: the flagship model SeaPod, built for aquatic living, and the GreenPod, devised for land use. Both are designed for ecological living with solar power and smart home systems. The SeaPods in particular also aim to attract aquatic life and provide shade for the growth of new coral reefs.
PortX / atelierSAD
Similar to the Ocean Builder pods in its futuristic style, this project by Czech studio atelierSAD defies contemporary notions of a houseboat or floating home. Composed of individual modules that bend in a seamless C-shape towards the water, it represents a clever fusion of hi-tech and natural, lightweight materials. The increased dockside privacy makes way for large glass panels on the opposite end of the structure, allowing for ample natural light and warmth even during colder months. Easily expandable and quick to disassemble, the individual building units allow for flexibility whatever the at-home situation might require.
Energy Positive Floating Villa / vanOmmeren-architecten
What’s in a name? In this case, quite a lot. Exemplary of the floating homes popular across much of the Netherlands (and ingrained in the country’s DNA), this modern cube on Haarlem’s Spaarne river by vanOmmeren-architecten is energy positive, meaning it produces more than it consumes. Borrowing heavily from industrial design, the stylistic language of the barque consists mainly of aluminum, glass, wood and steel – belying its warm interior. The temperature is maintained through PV-panels on the roof, combined with a heat pump in the concrete hull that collects energy from the difference in water/indoor temperature to create an endless natural stream of energy.
The Float / Studio RAP
We stay in the Netherlands for a project that was called out by the 2022 World Economic Forum: The Float by Rotterdam-based Studio RAP. Among the most sustainable homes in this lineup, it uses renewable processes and materials such as cork and timber to help reduce construction-related emissions start-to-finish. To avoid the more streamlined appearance of traditional houseboats, the architects chose a zigzag structure completely realized in Cross-Laminated-Timber and glad entirely in breathable cork. To add an extra eco-credit, the home is topped with a lush, layered green roof.
Floating House waterlilliHaus / SysHaus
Mounted on a floating catamaran that doubles as a wraparound private pier, Brazilian architecture firm SysHaus offers multiple variations of their ready-made lilliHaus. Once again, its style echoes modern clear lines made of glass and wood and the interior boasts minimalist furniture which can be delivered along with the home. The house’s ecological footprint is controlled through a clever natural ventilation system as well as a water treatment and extraction mechanism that adapts to the natural environment. Energy is sourced through solar panels and a built-in battery system, while consumption is monitored via smart technology.
DD16 / BIO-architects
The cryptically named DD16 brings us further East to Moscow, Russia. Local firm BIO-architects saw the project as an exercise in minimalism with only 16m2 total surface area and two modules. A lot of the same materials were used throughout the home to reduce waste, such as composite aluminum sheets for both the exterior frame and kitchen facade. Despite its compact and weather-resistant shell, the home’s interior offers warmth and appears larger than its footprint thanks to the large glazing. Autonomous systems are used throughout the home (solar power for electricity, water from the lake and a bio-toilet) and the easy one-person assembly makes it the most versatile modern floating home on our list.
Explore more floating homes in this My ArchDaily folder created by the author.