Houseboats aren’t known for their high-end design values. These typically narrow dwellings are often short on light, heat and space, and, without a careful design touch, can end up feeling cramped and damp. Yet the national enthusiasm for living the houseboat life is only increasing in Britain, where the percentage of houseboats used as a primary residence has more than doubled in the past ten years. Over 10,000 people live on the 100 miles of London’s waterways alone, often taking to the water to reduce the costs of living in the capital.
Amsterdam is facing a similar space shortage to London, but the Dutch capital is taking more radical steps towards developing water-based housing in order to solve this problem (perhaps because a quarter of the Netherlands’ land mass lies below sea level). There, 18,000 modern, minimal houses are under construction as part of the new floating district of Ijburg on the river Ij, a project that is also attracting international architects like Bjarke Ingels, who recently unveiled a design for its waterfront (below).
Meanwhile, rising sea levels globally are already creating chronic problems for coastal communities. More than 90 towns and cities in America are already battling chronic flooding. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, which has mapped sea-level rises in 48 states, that number will increase 170 communities in under 20 years. The same pressure is being felt around the world, where architects are beginning to make use of “blue space” by creating floating architecture that can rise with the tides. In 2013 NLÉ, a Dutch firm, created a prototype for a floating school in Lagos that can adapt to rising water levels and therefore remain sustainable for the future. Meanwhile, in the Maldives, one of the world’s lowest-lying island nations, the government is working with Koen Olthuis of Waterstudio.nl, another Dutch company, to create a chain of floating islands in the Indian Ocean as a test case for more further developments to house the local community when the sea washes their homes away.
The attention of architects and designers is radically improving life on water. A new book “Rock The Boat”, out now from Gestalten, explores their work, and shows that “aquatecture” isn’t all portholes and painted timber, but rather modern, innovative and resourceful.
This custom-made houseboat was built by Anchorage Houseboats and designed to sit, like a shark-fin, in the middle of Lake Eildon in Victoria, Australia. Since the boat needs to travel, the double-decker’s exterior offers viewing rails and a streamlined hull. Inside, however, the boat has the cool, sharp palette of an iceberg, with minimalist furnishings and integrated cabinets to keep everything shipshape.
High ceilings and stark metal beams of repurposed industrial lofts have become synonymous with San Francisco’s tech boom. But since those spaces are now prohibitively expensive to purchase, architect Olle Lundberg and his wife Mary Breuer decided to create their own airy industrial space in the form of a repurposed ferry, which travelled to the Bay Area all the way from Iceland. By cutting a large hole in the main deck, and making use of glazed, roll-up doors, Lundberg and Breuer found a way to bring light into the lower levels of the vessel, which has still kept its original cross-hatched anti-skid floor from its days carrying cars and passengers through the Norwegian Sea.
Most of us associate lounging by the water with sunny days by the beach, but some designers are trying to ensure that we make full use of water’s natural beauty the whole year round. WA Sauna, by goCstudio, is a battery-motored floating sauna, featuring a wood-burning stove and space to seat six. Crowdfunded in 2014 via Kickstarter and community donations, the vessel consists of a pre-fabricated aluminium frame with a varnished, marine-grade plywood platform, while the sauna itself is lined in spruce. The idea is that after heating up in the sauna, visitors can jump into one of Seattle’s many waterways, a natural cold plunge pool, true to the Scandinavian tradition.
Not everyone who wants to live on a boat wants their house to look like a boat. With this in mind, BYTR Architects created the “Parkark”, a three-bedroom house for a young family with a mooring on a parkland canal. The exterior materials – copper panels and thermally modified wood – blend into the natural surroundings, while glass doors offer a light and airy living space. The floor plan and window layout has been carefully considered to give the inhabitants privacy – and there’s not a porthole in sight.
Claudius Schulze’s first attempt to get around Hamburg’s rising rent prices was a treehouse. He was met, however, with the gargantuan might of German building regulations, which led him to discover how much simpler it would be to build on water, where anyone can build a structure under 20 metres, as long as it isn’t residential. Rather than developing an existing boat, Schulze, who makes his living as a photographer, decided to start from scratch, with only €6,000 and no boat-building experience. The result, a DIY studio-cum-cabin featuring reclaimed windows and a disco ball, shows the potential of thinking outside the box.
Rock the Boat (Gestalten) is out now