Turning to Architects to help us adapt: the potential of floating homes

With greater climatic uncertainty over the years, there has been a concomitant increase in the intensity of  floods. In the past two years alone, Thailand and Australia have witnessed egregious floods leading to population displacement, deaths, and damages upwards of USD $45 billion and $9.6 billion respectively.

A number of professionals from various disciplines have proposed ideas and actions that can help governments better prepare for climatic risks such as floods and sea-level rise. ACT recently blogged about Matthias Jacob and Mike Church’s proposal on how to tackle the trouble of floods, which will only be exacerbated by sea-level rise if action is not taken.

An article from the Associated Press profiles floating homes (also known as amphibious houses) as the architect’s answer to rising seas. Amphibious houses consist of a structure that slides into a steel framework over a hollow foundation which, like the hull of a ship, buoys up the building when water enters.

The Netherlands, a third of which lies below sea level, have turned to floating solutions as one alternative to address issues of rising sea levels. According to Science Daily Magazine, there is a unique legal obligation existing in Netherlands: 7% to 12% of every construction site is to be dedicated to water storage, which makes floating houses also very convenient.

Thai landscape architect Danai Thaitakoo is quoted in the article from the Associate Press saying “climate change will require a radical shift within design practice from the solid-state view of landscape urbanism to the more dynamic, liquid-state view of waterscape urbanism. Instead of embodying permanence, solidity and longevity, liquid perception will emphasize change, adaptation.”

Thailand, recognizing its vulnerabilities to flooding, is taking action as architect Prisdha Jumsai is currently designing the country’s first hospital for the aged. The design will feature a 300-bed hospital over a permanently flooded area near Bangkok that is also subject to tides from the nearby Gulf of Thailand. It will have concrete stilts raising its first floor about 4 meters (13 feet) above average water levels.

Dutch architect Koen Olthuis has been leading the way in this area through his company Waterstudio. Cities like New Orleans and countries like the Republic of the Maldives have sought advice from Waterstudio to assist in preparing for rising water levels. A UCLA architect named Thomas Mayne has been promoting this idea in North America. This NPR interview to offers more about the idea and why it is promising adaptive technology.

ACT has not formally made recommendations along these lines, but in the Climate Change Adaptation and Water Governance report there is discussion about engineered ecology and using the principles of nature to manage water. Floatable homes are not just meant to foster greater resiliency to climate change through being raised on stilts: they allow water to naturally flow through canals and water courses which can help alleviate risks of water building up in the event of extreme weather.

The ACT Sea Level Rise session is exploring precedents from other countries and Canadian municipalities in order to develop recommendations for strategic infrastructure planning, generating an overview of what we do and don’t know, and policy options for the path ahead.

To read more on this topic of resiliency and design, and to better understand how floating home technology works, please see this Science Daily article.

Written by ACT researcher Timothy Shah


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  1. Jennifer Doherty says:

    While the Earth has always endured natural climate change variability, we are now facing the possibility of irreversible climate change in the near future. The increase of greenhouse gases in the Earth?s atmosphere from industrial processes has enhanced the natural greenhouse effect. This in turn has accentuated the greenhouse ?trap? effect, causing greenhouse gases to form a blanket around the Earth, inhibiting the sun?s heat from leaving the outer atmosphere. This increase of greenhouse gases is causing an additional warming of the Earth?s surface and atmosphere. A direct consequence of this is sea-level rise expansion, which is primarily due to the thermal expansion of oceans (water expands when heated), inducing the melting of ice sheets as global surface temperature increases.
    Forecasts for climate change by the 2,000 scientists on the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) project a rise in the global average surface temperature by 1.4 to 5.8°C from 1990 to 2100. This will result in a global mean sea level rise by an average of 5 mm per year over the next 100 years. Consequently, human-induced climate change will have ?deleterious effects? on ecosystems, socio-economic systems and human welfare.At the moment, especially high risks associated with the rise of the oceans are having a particular impact on the two archipelagic states of Western Polynesia: Tuvalu and Kiribati. According to UN forecasts, they may be completely inundated by the rising waters of the Pacific by 2050.According to the vast majority of scientific investigations, warming waters and the melting of polar and high-elevation ice worldwide will steadily raise sea levels. This will likely drive people off islands first by spoiling the fresh groundwater, which will kill most land plants and leave no potable water for humans and their livestock. Low-lying island states like Kiribati, Tuvalu, the Marshall Islands and the Maldives are the most prominent nations threatened in this way.“The biggest challenge is to preserve their nationality without a territory,” said Bogumil Terminski from Geneva. The best solution is continue to recognize deterritorialized states as a normal states in public international law. The case of Kiribati and other small island states is a particularly clear call to action for more secure countries to respond to the situations facing these ‘most vulnerable nations’, as climate change increasingly impacts upon their lives

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