Gallery: INHABITAT INTERVIEW: Koen Olthuis of Talks Abou...


In light of all the dire news related to climate change, rising sea levels and the natural disasters which have stricken numerous coastal areas around the world, we here at Inhabitat would like to highlight an interview Inhabitat Editor-in-Chief Jill Fehrenbacher conducted with architect Koen Olthuis of A studio focused on designing for a future water world, Olthuis has been at the forefront of this once unconventional, yet now timely design vernacular. Olthuis says that despite our civilization’s history of trying to drain and fight against wet landscapes for the past thousand years, our best move for the future would be to “let water in and even make friends with the water.” Read on for the fascinating interview where Olthius describes his what designing for water landscapes worldwide really means.

You have to trust an architect who has grown up in a landscape completely engineered for water. Roughly a third of the Netherlands lies below sea level, and is home to over sixty percent of the country’s population of 15.8 million people. The Dutch have spent the last thousand years constructing dikes, pumps, and drainage systems in a constant battle to keep the encroaching North Sea at bay. On my recent trip to the Netherlands, I was fortunate to get the chance to sit down with architect, to discuss amphibious dwellings, floating foundations, and his experiences designing for water landscapes worldwide.

Jill: So Holland is almost completely built on wetlands, right?

Koen: Yes, the landscape is completely artificial. It’s fake in the sense that we have pumped out all the water, created dikes, and if you don’t have those dikes, then this would all be under water. The problem is we have three and a half thousand areas like this. It is amazing. And if you ask just somebody in Holland, they don’t even realize it. People in Holland are so used to the idea that I think nobody knows what the risks are anymore. And people from the United States and China, watch our systems of keeping the water out of the landscape the water out. But while they want to emulate our system of dikes, we are actually trying to move away from fighting against the water. Now we are beginning to let the water in and we are starting to make friends with the water. We have to do that because eventually the dikes won’t be able to keep up and all of this part of Holland’s will be flooded. So, its better just to work with the water instead of fighting against it.

My view out of the airplane flying over Holland!

Jill: How did Holland get like this in the first place?

Koen:: Well, when the first people came here from France and Germany, they came to the coast and they found space to live in this swamp and they created little artificial hills – what we call terpen. And between each hill was swamp. And then they created dikes from one hill to another hill in order to keep them dry. And then after awhile, you have one, two, three, four terpen – artificial hills with dikes around them, you say okay, why don’t we just pump out the water in between it. And so this gradually became dry land – what we call a polder. Only the people had to pump out the water constantly. Because if you stop pumping, then in 48 hours, a polder will be flooded again with 30 to 60 centimeters water. That means that if you stop pumping, this will all be water immediately. And so, Holland is completely artificial, because we just keep on pumping – Well, three and a half thousand polders constantly pumping out the water is a problem at times when there is a lot of rain and the river gets too high, and when the sea water level is high…

Jill: Some of your houses are floating, some of them are raised and some of them are amphibious. Can you explain the difference? I mean, I see houseboats all over Amsterdam – how are your buildings different from houseboats?

Koen:: Well there’s 60,000 houseboats in Amsterdam, but all of those have dimensions of five to six meters by 20 to 25. We’re doing something completely different, which allows the buildings to get much bigger and be a lot more stable. We have a patented technology to create special “floating foundations” with foam and concrete – what we call floating land. These foundations move up and down on piles. This allows us to go up to 200 – 200 meters in dimension and create larger structures. We use the term amphibious to describe these floating foundations that rest on piles. The foundation is set on dry land, and when the water comes, the foundation comes loose from those piles and floats upward, and become a floating house.

Jill: How did you get started in this business in the first place?

Koen:: We did a few designs for Amsterdam on the water, and I loved it. That’s what got me hooked. And I think, well, this is the choice I have to make. The first years were very hard, and now it’s getting easier.

Jill: How many houses and buildings have you actually built? I see a lot of CAD images of projects in the works, but not a lot of photos.

Koen:: We’ve built I think 24 houses now. But most of them — I think around 20 — are just modern houseboats. They are a little fancier than a normal house, but still they are houseboats.

I think we’ve built four really architectural, beautiful, unique buildings, and then we have 27 or 28 projects currently in the works, like the floating mosque in Dubai, like the floating boulevard in Antwerp, like the Health Village in Aruba.

The thing about our technique of working with the water is that the buildings and the floating foundations require very little maintenance. With these floating house techniques, waterproof houses, apartments, everything, you can just go on top of the normal structure of the polders and keep the original landscape in the same way as it is.

Health Resort in Aruba

Jill: It sounds like it’s much more efficient and better for the environment. You don’t have to do anything to maintain it?

Koen:: Yeah, that’s correct. The only thing you have to be sure of is that the water quality underneath those big structures is alright. And that depends of the amount of oxygen, how the sand gets underneath your platform, the current…well, lots of factors. This works for a lot of places. It works for Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Antwerp, Copenhagen. People have now been calling me from Tokyo, Ho Chi Min City, Bombay, Budapest.

Jill: Well, that makes sense, because every major city has water, doesn’t it?

Koen:: Yeah, that’s why they’re cities! In the newspapers we are always preaching “the floating city has a future,” and then everybody say, ah, I don’t know. Then when we show them Amsterdam, for instance, Amsterdam has more water than Venice. The whole city is made up of tiny islands on piles. There are thousands and thousands in Amsterdam, because it’s such a bad soil. If you look at Venice, the whole city is a static city. If they could have built it on a floating foundation just a few years ago, then the whole city would go up and down with the water, instead of constantly having to be drained.

Waterstudio’s designs for the Palm Resort in Dubai

Koen:: The most interesting city for us right now is Dubai. There’s amazing investment going into the waterfront right now, and it’s the first place where people are actually designing and building right in the water. We were asked to design a water taxi, and when we showed them that design they liked it so much that they wanted more. Now we are working on structures for part of the Palm resort and also this floating mosque. That will be for the Waterfront area.

Floating mosque in Dubai

Jill: Do you have anything in the U.S. in the works?

Koen:: No. It’s very hard to get plans realized in the United States. They’re very protective. Even for New Orleans. We have to find people already doing the work and then help them as a co-architect. But it’s not possible to get your own assignment over there. It’s really strange, because in other countries, such as Canada and England or Australia, we’re welcome. We can bring ideas in and get assignments. But the U.S. is a little bit protective of the market. And I think they should open up a little bit.

Jill: From what I can see in New Orleans, they could certainly use the help!

Koen:: Yeah. In the states, the problem is if there’s a big disaster like Katrina, then all the media totally focuses on that problem. And everbody gets really excited and says, “Okay, we’ve got to solve this.” But then a few months later, nothing has happened. And then the problem is no longer the focus of the media, and it’s back to the same old, waiting for the next disaster….

What you should do is make a real plan and do it a new way. Because when you get an innovative idea, the innovation brings in new economical possibilities. For example, we’re not a company who can have industrialized factories because labor is very expensive over here. But due to high standard of technical innovation we have here, we can sell our ideas and our expertise around the world. And it should be the same for the United States, in which labor is also very expensive, but innovation and technology standards are high.

For more information about Waterstudio, check out their website and a recent video about their work produced for the Discovery Channel:


+ Discovery Channel video

+ Waterstudio’s flood-resistant architecture

+ Waterstudio’s amphibious houses


or your inhabitat account below


  1. web designing company d... May 13, 2015 at 5:07 am

    Nice content. Thanks for sharing this interview.

  2. Freelance Web Designer February 16, 2015 at 10:27 pm

    This reminded me movie water world 😀 nice interview

  3. webdesigndubai January 12, 2015 at 5:13 am

    Thanks for sharing this great interview.

  4. admireworks May 5, 2012 at 4:14 am

    very fascinating work..!!

  5. rhoitt March 7, 2012 at 8:28 am

    I have a 400 x 200 foot lot (8 lots) zoned residential with a wetlands designation that is mostly submerged.this would be a good fit if anyone wants to partner up . Land is located in Flagler beach Florida and is a very desirable location. Link to property –

  6. fatimah April 22, 2008 at 10:53 am

    i am in philippine a filipina thers nothing i can say for all this view\’s it\’s great. i am thinking how they established this floating in the sea?What a beautiful places?

  7. Dubai web developer / d... March 10, 2008 at 5:47 am is nice website by the way…

  8. arun October 26, 2007 at 4:42 am

    Dear Sir,
    we are looking for floating home designs to built in india, if you can give more details of the designs we can go further.

  9. Siew Chien October 6, 2007 at 3:49 am

    Hi! Like Jemma, I am a student in university of melbourne. I am doing a project about a cabin near the beach and interested in finding more information e.g. the construction, material used for the base, plumbing, heating, electrictiy, transport about these floating homes. Also, any information about the design or concept related to the floating homes. Thanks in advance!

  10. Jemma October 5, 2007 at 8:02 am

    im a student at the university of wolverhampton, im currently researching into my chosen major project which is ‘floating homes’. Im just wondering if there is any other information i could gather or be sent which relates to the construction and all the ins and outs of what goes into the design eg. plumbing, heating systems, water input, electricty. I would greatly appreciate any information that would relate to the design of a floating home, thank you

  11. Dave Darling & Just... September 23, 2007 at 1:27 pm

    We are architecture students at Wentworth Institute of Technology in Boston Massachusetts.

    Our design studio class is currently undertaking a urban design proposal and housing complex design project in East Boston. We came across the Apartmentcomplex in Woubrugge the Netherlands, on their website and decided that it would be a perfect precedent study for us. However, we are having great difficulty finding any additional information on the project that is not offered on the site.

    If anyone has more information about this project we would greatly appreciate it if you would share it with us.

    Thank you

  12. ken August 20, 2007 at 12:45 pm

    it will take a long time to get global warming under control your homes can save lives and lower costs to people and goverments all they have to do is wake up

  13. Peter Bringt July 19, 2007 at 10:00 am

    Once more to “Save New Orleans”.
    better take the english version:

  14. Peter Bringt July 19, 2007 at 8:54 am

    This is an interesting interview, especially the part of New Orleans.
    Last year I made a study, how to save New Orleans.
    If you are interested in, you can find it here :

    Just a present from Germany.

  15. Richard Currey June 11, 2007 at 2:57 am

    Dear Mr. Olthuist
    Are you doing any work in Indonesia? This is an archipalegic country with over 17,000 individual islands, with countless coves, bays, and protected bodies of water. Benoa Harbour in Bali comes to mind immediately. Please let me know, I would like to represent your products here.
    Richard Currey
    Asia Building Products Ltd.
    Mobile 62818739224

  16. Alfred van der Meulen May 6, 2007 at 7:42 am

    S.G. Herr Olthuis!
    Ich kann nicht sagen, ob Sie mein erstes @ erhalten haben, wenn nicht, sehen Sie sich unsere HP an.
    Wir möchten dabei sein bei der Revolution in der Bauindustrie, die uns verrostet und verschlafen vorkommt. Nichts neues außer architektonisch, nichts wirklich neues von Seite der Baustoffe. Und hier wollen wir an Ihrer Seite stehen und Sie supportieren! Sehen Sie sich unser HP an und Sie werden gleich sehen, dass wir auch für Sie interessant sein können. Alle Materialien in unserem Programm haben Brandschutzklasse “A” nicht brennbar und sind zu dem leicht. Keine Recyclingprobleme, Resourcen- und Energieschonnend. Z.B., beim Blähvorgang (neues Verfahren “Wirbelschichtprozess”) expandieren wir um das ca. 10-fache und bei einer Blähtemperatur von 310 Grad Celsius. Die Dichte von SioPor ist 60-120kg/m³! Leicht mit s.hohen Dämmwert wie EBS (Lambda-Wert 0,04). Hat auch sehr gute akkustische Eigenschaften – absorbierend.
    Daten zu mir dirkekt: MP +43 664 2403517

  17. Ray Dunaway April 4, 2007 at 12:34 am

    We live on a floating home of approximately 230 square meters (2300 square feet) in on San Francisco Bay in Sausalito, California, USA. Our house is built on a concrete barge measuring 13.5 meters (44 feet) by 6 meters (20 feet) built in 1978. We float approximately 18 hours a day. We have municipal water, sewage, electricity and cable for high speed internet.

    This is a great way to live and we are happy to share our experiences. We do have a 400 meter (1/4 mile) walk from our parking lot to our front door which can be interesting during our rainy season. There are approximately 650 house boats in this area but there is great opposition to any more houseboat berths and the local building codes are becoming onerous.

  18. Lucas April 2, 2007 at 3:31 pm

    how much for a 50ftx50ft house boat?

  19. Inhabitat » O-14 ... January 30, 2007 at 10:16 am

    […] Dubai is fast becoming the global leader of bizarre upscale developments — for more interesting Dubai architecture, check out the rotating solar tower, and the floating mosque and floating communities which are currently being developed. […]

  20. Thomas Kariath January 30, 2007 at 6:24 am

    very fascinating work
    i am an architecture student in mumbai, implementing similar ideas along the Mumbai waterfront through my thesis. can you send me some more details
    would really love tho interact with your firm
    in fact, im even planning a trip to amsterdam for more exposure
    please reply with any information that seems relevant

    thank you

  21. Gina Liu December 27, 2006 at 11:54 am

    Hello, My name is Gina. I like your architecture very much! It’s so beautiful. Also, I am interested in the concept. Could you kindly answer my questions as below?
    (1) Are these architecture strong enought to fight against Typhoon or earthquake?
    (2) Can the architecture be assemble? and export? what can I do to have the authority to export?

    Actually, I am a architect and wonder if there has a chance to cooperate with you. Please let me know your thoughts and look forward to hearing from you.


  22. tom October 29, 2006 at 4:59 pm

    Hi my name is tom and i am doing a science project on water pollution can u emal me back with some facts.

    Thanks ,Tom

  23. Allan Salvacion October 11, 2006 at 1:51 pm

    very clever!!! i love it…

  24. Colin Williamson September 18, 2006 at 11:20 am

    Excelent idea, all houses in flood plains should be built to float.

  25. Norman Bradley September 11, 2006 at 5:46 pm

    I am increasingly interested in the floating cities concept; but on a large scale and would like to more sources of information on this. I agree we should not build in flood plains, nor should we build on barrier islands, but those with the money to do so tend to prefer exercising their wallets instead of their common sense, and legislation seems to follow willingly.

    I don’t believe that the global warming issue will be given the much needed attention it deserves by the industrialized nations, especially the US, until a couple of major cities or coastal areas are swallowed up by the sea and millions of people are killed. Why? It just seems that govenrments in general, especially the US, do not perceive any economic incentives in it, just plain refuse to look far enough into the future to be willing to deal with the issue, and would rather dump the money elsewhere (like fossil fuels and pork-barrel projects). Over here, we’ve become a nation of knee-jerk reactionaries, and sound-byte junkies, tending to do nothing until something big hits the fan; usually when it’s too late. Even the devastation Katrina wreaked on New Orleans is already being forgotten about.

    WIll the floating cities/homes concept catch on in the US? Maybe. Considering our society shows more interest in soap operas, “reality TV” and the offspring of Hollywood than we do in issues of substance affecting our own future it seems periously doubtful. Maybe in the Gulf States as flooding grows, otherwise I think it will be relegated to vacation homes and oddities of the wealthy.
    The Netherlands will remain in the forefront as a matter of survival.

  26. Emily September 4, 2006 at 5:18 pm

    It’s not a band-aid but a great solution that seems so obvious and simple, yet is genius because someone actually followed through on it. I love that it works so closely with the surrounding environment and would love to learn more about the management of water quality. I had the same question as Hobbes about possible settling issues, even of the piles sinking in soft soil.

    I am sorry for both parties that America is not more open to sharing jobs and information, that truly is a devastation.

    And there are many problem sites around the world and we live in all of them (deserts, cliffs, volcanoes, earthquake zones, hurricane zones, swamplands, rainforest!, etc.). Technology will help make these places more safe, legislation will protect areas of interest, but cultural mindframe changes will be necessary to promote the desire for people to live in higher density areas rather than supporting suburban sprawl, and that can come from promotion through the media. i congratulate the netherlands for their willingness to try new things.

  27. pocketnoodle » Bl... September 3, 2006 at 4:48 pm

    […] Great interview over at inhabit with Koen Olthuis from […]

  28. Maggie van Rooyen September 1, 2006 at 11:23 am

    Fascinating! I am living in New Zealand and we have thousands of fast flowing rivers and spectacular lakes. I would like to get in touch to discuss possibilities of intruducing your work to the New Zealand market. I am a licenced Realtor and arcihtecture is always very interesting. Your designs are modern and I would love to see the practicality of the interiors.

  29. Lou August 31, 2006 at 4:57 pm

    These are great — Only problem with these is Swells and Wind in the Hurricane Future. But they are cool looking..

  30. bbecker August 30, 2006 at 3:04 pm

    There are many floating homes in Tennessee on Norris Lake and Lake Cumberland. It would be nice to see something more like Waterstudio’s homes there. Most of the existing ones are in pretty rough shape and it’d be nice to see some good design there. If you haven’t been on one of those lakes, they make for great vacations by either renting a house boat, or one of the few floating homes.

  31. ELMANCO / Stefano Ricci August 30, 2006 at 7:26 am

    Weel… hard to say if the future of the houses will be on the water (i hope no!), but some architectural design of Water Studio are simply good.

  32. Adam Cains August 29, 2006 at 10:46 pm

    A good idea, but problematic for most locales.

    The problem is the shoreline aspect; The biggest call for these homes would be the high density cities (NY/Monaco/London/etc) but they’d never get planning permission, who’d want to lose their waterview? there would be huge opposition.

    The Netherlands is a fantastic market for these since alot of the water is inland but outside of that market, you’re really looking at new developments like Dubai.

    Though an ecological floating hotel in the Bahamas sounds very appealing

  33. Christopher August 29, 2006 at 9:05 pm

    Someone should make sure that the President of the United Stated gets this information. The mayor of New Orleans should also get this information, considering the fact that the entire city is below sea level.

  34. being August 29, 2006 at 8:08 pm

    oh good, maybe we can squeeze humans on every square inch of this planet.

  35. Earthlover August 29, 2006 at 6:49 pm

    This is just a band-aid on a larger problem… How about instead of making homes that float we:

    A) Don’t build in flood plains.
    B) Help solve the global warming that is causing all of this flooding in the first place.

  36. Hobbes August 29, 2006 at 7:39 am

    This was a really fascinating interview. Made me think of the movie Waterworld (terrible movie, but interesting concept of floating cities). One thing I wondered about was the floating foundations sitting on dry land. I would imagine that after a while, what with rain, settling of the soil etc, the foundation could become quite set into the ground. Then when/if the place flooded, the house would be mired in the soil and be unable to float.

    Love the idea of the floating houses though – perhaps New Orleans should be looking at something similar.

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