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UK's first amphibious house becomes a "free-floating pontoon”


February 20, 2012

During a flood situation the entire building is designed to rise up in its dock and float there, remaining buoyed by the flood waters

During a flood situation the entire building is designed to rise up in its dock and float there, remaining buoyed by the flood waters

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For the first time in the UK an "amphibious" home has been granted full planning permission and is set to be built on the banks of the River Thames in Buckinghamshire. The residential home designed by Baca Architects is an architectural feat that overcomes the threat of flooding by becoming a "free-floating pontoon" during a flood situation. "In an extreme flood, a 1 in 100 year event, the house can rise over 2.5 meters [8.2 feet]," Richard Coutts, director of Baca Architects told Gizmag.

This technology presents a major breakthrough for British architects who for some time have been investigating ways to mitigate the risk to homes located in flood-prone zones. The modern 225 sq m (2421 sq ft) home will be set just 10 meters (32.8 ft) from the river's edge, replacing the current dilapidated bungalow that sits in a Flood Zone 3b (classified as the Functional Floodplain). "Options for the site included either a floating or an elevated property," explained Coutts. "An elevated building would be set high enough to avoid an extreme flood but has the disadvantage of being almost a storey away from the garden. An amphibious house solves these issues by allowing occupants to enjoy their garden and only rising to avoid floods when necessary."

While the amphibious house will rest on the ground on fixed foundations, during a flood situation the entire building is designed to rise up in its dock and float there, remaining buoyed by the flood waters. This is possible due to a wet dock, comprised of retaining walls and base slab, that sits underneath the home. When flooding occurs the dock fills with water and the house rises accordingly. To prevent the house from simply floating away, four dolphins (permanent vertical posts) are arranged close to the sidewalls.

The home is designed to be a highly-insulated and low energy building, featuring water saving and energy saving devices, large windows, pitched roofs and a chimney to complement the irregular roof-line of neighbouring homes. The glazed south facing facade offers panoramic views towards the river that also overlooks a well designed riverside garden that is both pretty and functional. Acting as a natural warning system, the garden, with terraces set at different levels, would flood incrementally thus giving the occupants enough warning to assess the situation and evacuate if necessary.

Only a handful of amphibious homes of this nature have been built around the world. "Similar properties have been built in Holland and New Orleans but this will be the first in the UK," said Coutts. The Dura Vermeer Group constructed 32 amphibious dwellings and 14 floating homes in Maasbommel in the Netherlands in 2005. These homes were also built using floating bases that were anchored to mooring posts and they successfully performed as designed during the Dutch floods of February 2011.

Building an amphibious home currently costs around 20% to 25% more than a similar sized house - perhaps a price worth paying for the premium waterfront location and peace of mind?

Baca Architects established the Life project (Long-term Initiatives for Flood-risk Environments) in 2005 to identify ways in which the construction industry could help to tackle rising carbon dioxide emissions and adapt to climate change - and in particular to flood risk. The initiative seeks to promote new approaches that contribute towards the development of more holistic sustainable policy making in the future.

In the future Coutts foresees that large communities will be holistically planned to be better prepared for flooding and climate change. "Dwellings will be low carbon, and organized around multifunctional landscapes that will help control surface water flooding or act a large flood storage areas," said Coutts. "New communities will be made up of streets of flood resilient dwellings located on the highest ground with amphibious homes located in the transitional zones between development and the natural environment."

Sources: Baca Architects, Life Project

About the Author
Bridget Borgobello Bridget is an experienced freelance writer, presenter and performer with a keen eye for innovative design and a passion for green technology. Australian born, Bridget currently resides in Rome and when not scribbling for Gizmag, she spends her time developing new web series content and independent cinema. All articles by Bridget Borgobello

I wish our architects would consider this technology. Our region has traditional \"disasters\" with flooding every year. Yet here people build these sandbag dykes to protect their homes. They get volunteers to pitch in to save their homes each year. Each year the news crews get video of the same stressed out owners thanking the same volunteers (sometimes school kids or prisoners) for the temporary dykes. The amphibious home concept seems like an elegant solution to this problem. I hope our architects and city planners get to visit these homes and bring back these ideas.

Carlos Grados

I hope this works... I work in construction and there is a real disconnect between what architects think on paper is going to work and the actual reality of things working out...

Mana Leituala

Compared to the other floating house conceppts I\'ve seen, this one certainly looks a lot less reliable. Honestly wouldn\'t bee too surprised if the waters rose faster than the house due to the obstruction to the flow caused by everything around it. Or for that matter if the house didn\'t rise at all. Considering how moisture proof the base would already be, you\'d think they would drive a tunnel to the river just above/below the normal water level (depending on considerations. It would make fluid flow a lot easier, the house would begin to rise earlier and it would drain off better afterwards. Just my tuppence.

Nathan Holmes

Have to wonder how much extra such a house would cost over the more obvious, cheaper solution (to build on piers - 2.5 metres is nothing). I\'m guessing it is justified on the basis of avoiding local building height restrictions ... but if they were changed ...


What about the connections to the utilities when the house rises (water in, sewage out, electric, telephone)?

Richard Dinerman

If it is merely stationary water then I can see this working - in a flowing water environmnt with the extreme force water can generate, I just hope those stays are strong enough or you would be off floating down the flood. Great concept, though not sure I would live in one.

Martin Yale

the attached boathouse seems to be missing, In case of flooding I need to sail to the amphibious grocery, for food and barbecue stuff.


re; Richard Dinerman

The house only moves 2.5m so for the \'wired\' utilities put 3m worth of slack in the wires.

For water, and gas use flexible tubes again with 3m worth of slack.

For sewage you will need one or more sliding expansion joints again with 3m worth of expansion, you will also be advised to put a flexible coupling above and below the expansion joint to avoid problems from small lateral movements.


re; mcsblues

If you had read the article you would know that it was designed this way to avoid being an extra story above the garden.


Carlos, why don\'t they build houses with a garage on the ground floor, and living accommodation on the first floor? This is a lot easier than a floating house. This problem often arises because houses are built on flood plains. In England, quite a number of people live in house boats moored on the river. No problem!


Slowburn of course I read the story. Presumably part of the excessively complicated and expensive plan is to replace the garden every time it is washed away in a flood. In the real world, nothing to stop the garden also being grown in elevated beds and still much cheaper and simpler.


re; mcsblues

Your post didn\'t indicate it. It depends on how fast the water is flowing but well rooted plants without exposed soil often survive floods quite well.


@ slowburn Well just raising the platform seems to be a more feasible and economical solution.. and believe me the garden will be complete washed away in the floods...believe me I'm from Mumbai...we have seen some pretty tough floods.


HI, if you are interested in this house and AQUATECTURE generally there is a free seminar in London on 20/9/12 at 6:30pm. A panel of leading experts will discuss the latest projects being built on/with water. Full details can be found at: http://www.greenskythinking.org.uk/programme/baca.html

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