Panel Discussion: Building on Water

Wednesday 09 Oct 2013

Koen Olthuis and Neeraj Bhatia tell WAD13 delegates about the benefits of building on water

Homes that float on water are the way of the future according to Koen Olthuis and Neeraj Bhatia who spoke at the panel discussion ‘Building on Water’ at World Architecture Day in New York.

Dutch architect Koen Olthuis and his firm Waterstudio built several floating structures in Holland and are now applying their concept to contexts as diverse as slums in Dhaka, Bangladesh and luxury resorts in the Maldives.  

Olthuis takes the view that buildings should be as flexible and dynamic as the cities in which we live. “We build static buildings for dynamic cities and this has to change,” he said.

While there has been very little precedence for communities built on water, Canadian architect and urban designer Neeraj Bhatia pointed to the oil industry as a possible pioneer.

Currently, oil companies with sizable offshore drilling sites up to 200km off shore such as Brazil’s Petrobras are facing the challenge of building housing communities and amenities for their workers, who were traditionally shuttled to and from the work site.

“This is a positive situation for architects,” Bhatia said. He hopes designers will be able to draw from the innovative solutions that the oil companies fund and develop and adapt them.

Building resilience and climate change have been hot topics in New York in the wake of Hurricane Sandy in 2012, but both panelists emphasised that buildings on water are just as resilient as buildings on land.

“Floating structures are able to take force, they are flexibly built and tethered to the sea bed, and they have controls to deal with the wind direction and tides,” said Neeraj Bhatia.

Changing people’s attitudes remains a central challenge for architects looking to build on water. Koen Olthuis says his firm tackles resistance from regulatory bodies by educating them: “We show them our work in Holland and explain that life in water is just as safe as on land,” he said.

Ultimately living on water may also involve a paradigm shift on the behalf of the end user. Olthuis said a great shift will not be necessary since change will happen slowly and early water buildings will likely resemble buildings on land: “And you’ll be able to plug these buildings into the existing grid,” he said.

Eventually, however, Neeraj Bhatia does anticipate and indeed looks forward to a paradigm shift: “I’m interested in how these buildings will eventually become self-sustaining. It’s our job as architects to share this vision.”

Sophie Kalkreuth
Luxury Properties

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