Visionary Koen Olthuis Examines the Future of Aquatic Architecture

Architect Koen Olthius

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The Dutch have a problem. Well, to be a bit more even-handed, everybody has a problem, it’s just that the Dutch are going to be among the first ones to really feel it. Rising water levels are forcing architects to reexamine their building practices as the encroaching oceans swallow real estate and wash away foundations. Koen Olthuis of Netherlands-based has been at the forefront of these new architectural practices, experimenting with new ways to fuse water and land into sustainable living spaces.

Olthuis had an interview with Inhabitat where he shared his vision of the future of aquatic architecture. “But what attracts me the most about floating architecture is the enormous flexibility water offers us,” Olthuis explained, “and the virtually unexplored limitless possibilities water brings to metropolises worldwide. Planning for urban change using water will help us cope with the yet unforeseen effects of climate change and urbanization.”

Floating Mosque

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Olthuis isn’t just using buzzwords when he talks about innovation and new types of architecture — he really means it. has come up with plans for floating mosques, aquatic homes that are powered by solar and tidal energy, and massive floating parks.

Most of Olthuis’ projects focus heavily on the engineering side of things — after all, figuring out how to make a several-thousand-ton multiplex float on the open ocean is a major engineering challenge. Luckily, the folks over at realize that they can’t wow the people of the world with words and engineering formulas. They frequently delve into the design side of things to help people understand the potential beauty that can exist in aquatic architecture. This floating star-shaped island envisioned for the slowly sinking people of the Maldives, for example, gives you a taste of just how incredible aquatic architecture could be.

Floating Island for the Maldives

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Now, I know what you’re thinking. Is any of this even safe? Wouldn’t a floating island be transformed into a giant pile of expensive flotsam and jetsam as soon as a storm or tsunami hits? Olthuis explains, “We dare to say that if your land is threatened by water, the safest place is to be is in fact on the water. The effects of the average tsunami are much less on open waters than close to the shore because the wave will gain height as it hits the shore.” He added that the water will actually absorb most of the shock wave, which will actually make it a safer alternative to conventional housing in earthquake-prone places like California or other cities along the Pacific Rim.

Are you impressed by Olthuis’ work? Take a good hard look — if water levels continue to rise, then floating communities may soon become the most common type of housing!


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