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ECO-FOOTPRINTS

by Archives March 7, 2007

Human beings tend to adapt to some of the most difficult situations and at times we do it when the odds are often stacked against us. Now, with fears of arctic ice melting, some people are thinking about staying on top of the resulting floods by living in swimming houses.

In the Netherlands, the Dutch are building floating houses. It’s simple: if rivers rise above their banks, the houses simply rise upwards as well.

“Tomorrow does not look any better, according to the weather forecast,” said Anne van der Molen, a resident of the Netherlands. Her house stands directly on the Maas dyke – on the side facing the Maas River. As the water level climbs, the floating house itself can move up five metres, if necessary.

There are now 37 houses along the Maas. Two story’s high, semicircular metal roofs and yellow, green or blue facades – hardly any clues let on that these are “bobbing” houses. The basement is not built into the earth. Instead, it is on a platform.

The hollow foundation of each house works in the same way as the hull of a ship, buoying the house up above water. To prevent the swimming houses from floating away, they slide up two broad steel posts – and as the water level sinks they sink back down again.

“The columns have been driven deep into solid ground,” explains Dick van Gooswilligen from the Dura Vermeer construction company.

“They are even strong enough to withstand currents you would find on the open seas.” Gooswilligen said. “As global warming causes the sea level to raise this may be the solution. Housing of this type is the future for the delta regions of the world, the ones which face the greatest danger.”

Climatologists predict that precipitation in the Netherlands could increase as much as 25 per cent. At the same time, because of its dense population, there is increasing pressure to build in areas prone to flooding. More than a quarter of its land lies below sea level.

The first town based on this model, numbering 12,000 floating houses, might conceivably be built close to Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport. The Netherlands are particularly low in this area. By the year 2010, amphibious floating houses may well form a residential area.

Of course, Hurricane-affected areas in the U.S. could benefit from floating houses. When flood waters in cities like New Orleans begin to rise so would all the floating houses and eventually they would settle back down as the water retreats.

But by designing floating houses aren’t we admitting defeat? Building floating houses is like riding out the storm. Instead of dealing with it we simply try to adapt. Bobbing up and down on the flood waters only means we may be trying to cope with global warming and its effects, rather than curbing the amount of emissions we spew into the atmosphere.

Certainly the architects and builders will profit. Floating houses cost more than conventional housing.

The amphibious buildings cost approximately $250,000 USD for a 120 square meter home. But, when the floating houses become popular, the price of a one-family “ark” is expected to drop.

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