The Netherlands are famous for several things, including their famous walls, which every once in a great while little Dutch boys have to stick their fingers in to prevent flooding. Or so the story goes. The reason for these walls is because the Netherlands is a country- like Bangladesh- that is essentially at sea level. Throughout the centuries, the Dutch have struggled, sometimes successfully, sometimes not, to contain the sea. They have even begun a series of controlled floods. The problem is only going to get worse with global climate change, which will raise sea levels worldwide.
Many fields are trying to figure out how to combat this, from engineering to politics, but there is at least one realm that is dealing with rising sea levels as if they are a done deal- architecture. No one wants to live in a flood zone, but if we have to, we’ll need houses that reflect the new reality. Enter here Kees de Kraker, a Dutch architect, who has designed a floating, domed house that takes advantage of both the power and simplicity of domes and the power of the sun.
The floating homes are a combination of Buckminster Fuller, Waterworld, and the can-do spirit of post WWII American pre-fab housing. These “eco-igloos” are amphibious, can be built in seven days, two-storied, and are equipped with a series of solar panels, making them environmentally sustainable.
But, of course, many houses have solar power, and are environmentally sustainable. The word that should have jumped out in the last sentence is “amphibious”. The eco-igloos are designed not just to affect the environment (positively of course), but to react to environmental changes. Based on a floating platform, they are built so that if the area floods, as it has, and will, most likely with increasing ferocity, the houses can float.
Of course, a house on a raft raises a raft of questions. There are practical insurance questions, like: what happens if our houses collide? There are the questions of property, of sewage, of taxes, and of district. Do you “own” the water your house is docked at?
Other questions are of a philosophical nature. It is easy to imagine the shock when you wake up and your house is literally unmoored, rising with the sea, floating away from the shore (did you remember to let the dog in?). Now, granted, this might be mitigated by not having your home destroyed in a flood, but it raises questions about the nature of property, and, possibly, the meaning of home.
Now, these questions might not be as pressing as rising sea waters. From the Netherlands to New Orleans to Bangladesh, people who are accustomed to flooding are seeing it amped up to terrifying levels. Architects will have to adapt, and, possibly, houses that can be detached from land and are supple enough to adjust to a changing environment, literally while it is happening, could be the wave of the future.