Shenzhen has recently had controversy over a floating structure, the so called Sea Palace. I am drawn to floating buildings for some reason. Maybe it is that nothing puts you in touch with the water like actually being directly on top of the water (OK, you could be swimming in the water, but it is a bit hard to live the  day like that.) In China I think floating structures have some resonance too. Hong Kong, of course, has the world’s largest floating restaurant–Jumbo in Aberdeen. There too in Aberdeen also were the neighborhoods of junks. (Many pages of photos on junks and sampans in Hong Kong in the early 1970s)


So many that it housed a good portion of the population. In mainland China, families live on the river/canal barges that transport many of the goods in China.

More after the jump

In Amsterdam and in other cities that have small rivers and canals, people live in houseboats made from barges. (I am waiting for the day when water is clean enough in Shenzhen’s rivers for that to be a possibility.) Seattle has quite a few (about 500 now) although it had a couple thousand in the 1940s.

We shouldn’t romanticize living on a tiny junk in Hong Kong–they were too small, had no plumbing and were a result of Hong Kong’s high priced land policy, lack of public housing, and great influx of people from the  mainland. Nonetheless, floating structures today are quite different in amenities offered. They also provide the option for a city to increase buildable area without land reclamation. And, importantly for a country that tends towards structures that are too large, the economics of floating structures keep them down to a size that won’t overwhelm.

Floating Island–Seoul, South Korea

The largest floating island just opened up recently in Seoul, South Korea. RJ Koehler took some great photographs at day and night of the Floating Island — or Sebit Dungdungseom, as it is called in Korean.

In total there will be three small floating ‘islands’, with the second largest being about 3,300 sq. m in size and that one  a 700-seat convention hall and several other attractions such as restaurants and video games.

There are parks, outdoor terraces and viewing points surrounding the center, while at night, the exterior of the building is illuminated with brightly colored light shows.

When the next islands open in September, the entire 20,400 square meter complex will offer three cultural centers, featuring performances, water sports and aquatic events.

The islands can accommodate 6,200 people, according to reports, and are set to make the Han River, which 59 million people visited last year, an even more popular tourist spot.

While artificial islands have been constructed before, most famously in Dubai, they have generally been formed by pouring sand on the seabed to create artificial land.Seoul’s islands take a different approach and actually float on the surface of the river using an enormous buoy secured in place by 28 mooring chains, a design which ensures it can withstand changing river levels and bad weather.

The cost is US$ 90 million.

A 1,200 unit floating apartment complex–the Netherlands.

Netherlands is an obvious choice for floating homes, because of its canals and the fact that much of it lies under sea level. From Metropolis Magazine:

In previous decades, floating homes serviced an eccentric niche market of buyers. They were the “initiatives of individual people. Now, due to a conflux of national policy shifts, housing demand, and manufacturing advances, large-scale floating-home developments are suddenly becoming a viable reality.

Given the country’s stifling density and scarce available land, the real-estate opportunities are huge. And upcoming waterborne projects will include homes for the public-housing market—a big indicator that they are ready for introduction to a broad clientele. …“The water board wants a solution for the threat of water; the municipality wants more houses for the people.”

The first part of a 1,200 unit apartment complex called the citadel will open next year. Designed by waterstudio

The Waterbuurt West development in eastern Amsterdam includes 55 floating homes designed by Architectenbureau Marlies Rohmer. It is the largest such concentration in the Netherlands (for now).

As its name would imply. Waterstudio has done much work on the connection between water and architecture. One project is a design for a floating golf course in the  Maldives, a country that just may be under water in a few generations. They also did the masterplan for that country. The website Inhabitat interviewed the founder of Waterstudio, Koen Olthuis.

Koen: The first and most important goal in all of our plans is to design scarless developments. This means that both during as well as after the lifespan of the functions, the building leaves neither a physical footprint nor carbon footprint. Compared with building on land, water provides several opportunities for a more sustainable design approach. For example, one can think of water cooling and heating. These developments can use sea wind for cooling, floating solar fields for the local production of energy, and there is also potential for re-using a building at other locations and organizing the building process more efficiently by centralizing construction.

Floating Pavilion–Rotterdam harbor, Netherlands

This 1,000 sq. m pavilion is made up of three domes and was designed by a local Dutch architect, Bart Roeffen. It was finished last year.

The port of Rotterdam—Europe’s largest—is being expanded by 20 percent into the North Sea, leaving open for development some of the historic harbors, where the city has plans for 5,000 floating structures….Unlike houseboats that have hollow hulls that sink when they are punctured,  the pavilion has a lightweight foundation of polystyrene reinforced with concrete beams…. “It is impossible to sink such a building,”

“The building is not dependent on the land for its energy and infrastructure, making it possible to go farther from the shore,” Roeffen says. Instead, it incorporates a smart, use-adaptive climate-control system, passive solar energy, and a wastewater system that recycles and self-purifies.

Like Waterstudio, Roeffen’s architecture firm focuses on water issues: They say they also work on:

  • Drawing up guidelines for floating urbanisation
  • Transition strategies for flood proof sustainable cities

Floating Pool–New York City

Apparently New York City had 15 floating pools in the early 1900s. But they were eventually done away with. Starting in 1999, Ann Buttenweiser started up a foundation to bring them back. One of the reasons for bringing them back was that the floating pools could be transported to the destinations were they were most needed–usually the poorest neighborhoods close to the water. Even though New York City has about 50 public pools open each summer, some neighborhoods often do not have good public facilities and the children otherwise have no way to learn how to swim unless they travel to one of the few beaches in the city. The foundation worked with architects to bring the pool to life and it has been quite successful.

A larger concept here. And for those not near the sea, New York also has experimented with dumpster pools–temporary swimming pools using dumpsters.

Floating Nature Reserve–United Kingdom

Opened last month. Because it floats, it does not need to worry about the seasonal fluctuations in the water level of the wetlands. It also has a gift shop, local food store, a restaurant, and kilometers of hiking trails for visitors to explore

Dutch Floating Homes

These homes are not boats. They are fixed to their base, but they can float up if needed if the river floods.Each house is made of lightweight wood, and the concrete base is hollow, giving it ship-like buoyancy. With no foundations anchored in the earth,
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Other examples, chosen just because they look nice.

Design for a Houseboat–Hamburg, Germany

Again, one of the advantages publicized for this type of building is the greater use of available space in a city.

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Semi-submerged two story houseboat.

What is interesting with this houseboat is that some of the rooms are actually underwater. Designed by Waterstudio.

 …quite elegant and functional. On the exterior portion of the lot: leave the lawn flat and trimmed on one side to match the open expanse of water on the other. Within the building space: create three levels – the bottom as a retreat, the middle as a welcoming main floor and the top a relatively bare rooftop deck for enjoying the outdoors. .

Another partially submerged houseboat–Baltic Sea

Floating house, houseboat, Ålands Hotell, Iceberg Cabin, Daniel Andersson

Iceberg shaped summer cabin by architect Daniel Andersson. This one definitely looks like a leisure pad. The sunken aspect is more pronounced here than in the previous floating house. One of the greatest benefits of the design is the ability of the water to regulate the building temperature, eliminating the need for central air conditioning.

Water Villa–The Netherlands


t16 © +31 Architects

You can see other houseboats in the background

Urban Houseboat

A geothermal loop dropped down into the water below regulates the interior temperature, drawing up warm or cool as needed into an in-floor heating and cooling system. Gray water can likewise be lifted from the amble supply on all sides, while drinking water is collected via rain into semi-concealed tanks.

Seattle luxury houseboat.

Looks like it has a basement. About 250 sq. m. Currently being sold, at a price of US$3,450,000. Even though they technically don’t take up any land, they look to sell quite expensively. I think because houseboats are allowed in only a few places, so not much supply.