Inhabitat: In the wake of the tsunami that hit Japan recently, there is for good reason growing concern about building near the water, let alone building directly upon the water. How safe are floating buildings or developments such as the Floating Maldives? What precautions are taken to ensure their safety?
Koen: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. All our plans are the result of intense engineering by the best maritime engineering companies that taking into account the existing and expected extreme weather conditions, as well as local wave conditions. Together with insurance companies, and using maritime safety regulations, we find a balance between safety and feasibility. The enormous shockwave, caused by earthquakes like the one we recently saw in Japan, will be absorbed by the water and not affect the floating developments. The flash-floods that made even land based houses float will indeed also affect floating developments in urban waters and near the shore, but they will be subjected to less damage from the impact because they are already floating and will move in tandem with the waves.
Architect Koen Olthuis of Waterstudio.nl has been fascinating the Inhabitat editors for years with his innovative floating buildings and aqua-tecture. Far from being confined by convention — or by the boundaries of dry land — Olthuis has made a name for himself as an architect who pushes the boundaries of possibility when it comes to the built environment. With a studio focused on designing floating buildings for a future water world, Waterstudio.nl has designed everything from floating apartment complexes in the Netherlands to a floating mosque in the UAE to even an entire floating community of islands for the Maldives. While we’ve spoken in depth with Koen before about flood-resistant architecture, floating buildings and what he calls ‘sustainaquality’ — in the light of the latest tragedies that have hit Japan, we have to ask: how and relevant and sound is water architecture for today’s concerns? Read our exclusive interview where Olthuis explains the sustainability of building on water, as well as how he uses 3D modeling technology to help both clients and skeptics visualize how building on water could change the world.
Aerial view of the Netherlands by Jill Fehrenbacher for Inhabitat
Inhabitat: You’ve made quite a name for yourself as a designer of floating buildings. What attracts you to floating architecture? What got you started in this space?
Koen: I grew up in the Netherlands, half of which is situated below sea level. Thirty percent of its surface is covered with lakes, rivers and canals. What got me started was my refusal to believe that water is a border for urban components – I wanted to go beyond the waterfront. But what attracts me the most about floating architecture is the enormous flexibility water offers us, 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.
Inhabitat: What is your favorite floating building project that you’ve worked on and why?
Koen:I would say the floating harbor for Dubai. This project ticks all the boxes in terms of what’s important in communicating the potential of floating developments, helping to make them a reality worldwide:
- The size. Shaped as a triangle with three sides of some 700 meters each, the buildings dimensions are huge.
- Change of perception. It’s one of those buildings that makes you realize how solutions can sometimes be found by thinking differently. A harbor itself can be floating too.
- A different kind of architecture. On the water there is more space, so we can project buildings that do not have to fit within the urban limitations of size and structure.
- The sustainable possibilities. The building shows how building on the water can take advantage of new technologies in creating sustainable projects. This building for example will use water cooling and generate its own energy by means of solar cells.
- Technical innovation. The building will also function as a breakwater for the inner harbor which is used for the smaller transit boats. The structure itself thus provides protection for wind and waves.
- Showcase of proven technology. The building uses a combination of existing offshore technologies like huge oil tankers, oil rigs, ocean liners, and so on; each of these elements show us how solutions can be found if we look beyond the confines of our own architectural profession.