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In the beginning was water. Then one learned to love water, wishing to be in the water, on the water, and ultimately to live on water rather than land. With a life as close to nature as is otherwise hardly feasible, moving with the waves, riding romantically on rivers and lakes. Yet living like this – whether in London, Paris or Berlin – was hitherto something that only romantics, the well-off or drop-outs could contemplate. Modern aquatecture aims to change this, with floating houses for almost anybody.
Yet living on the water presents a challenge in several respects, for engineers and architects, for example. Today nobody wishes to forego modern comforts. The technology of a floating house therefore needs to produce the same performance as a “normal” dwelling, with mains power and water, and also sewage treatment to meet today’s requirements. Aquatecture can solve the problem with flexible cables and pipes, for example, facilitating links to the networks. This flexibility also needs to be combined with stability – the floating house not only has to move up and down with the tides but also to defy powerful waves. Such stability, and hence safety, can for example be provided by a steel pontoon secured to steel columns.
If living on the water is novel, why shouldn’t it at the same time be better? Aquatecture’s architects accordingly put a lot of effort into achieving the best possible C02 balance, taking trouble to develop their structures in a more environmentally friendly way right from the outset. “Grey” water is cleansed to such an extent by microfiltration that it can be fed into the surrounding water. Energy can be derived from photovoltaics, while wood-pellet stoves guarantee environmentally friendly heating, and environmental building materials ensure a good climate on board the dwelling. Ultimately, architects are also at liberty to free themselves from the aesthetics of normal conventions and design houses in the way that their selected sites actually merit. Yet apart from structure, aesthetics and costs, the challenges also come from another direction.
Housing on water is also an unusual assignment for the urban planners. In some European cities, there are already plans, or at least good intentions, to render living on the water possible. Yet floating houses need space. However, berths are limited and allocating new ones often proves a protracted process. Kiel in Northern Germany is a place laboring under what is certainly an international problem. People would be happy to live on the water in this city, ideally located on a bay in the Baltic Sea. Yet berths there are to a large extent already in commercial or military use. Further hurdles arise when granting berths; for protection against high waves needs to be considered just as much as such the environmental aspects as ship traffic, commercial activities or existing local planning. Access roads, power/water supplies and sewage are all aspects of first-time building that need to be clarified. Many of the regulations applied were never drafted with this form of building in mind. All this costs time. So all those wishing to realize their dream of living on the water need to be very patient.
People in the Netherlands are considerably more versed in dealing with water, for 70 percent of the country’s economic performance is achieved from below sea level. Water may always have been a challenge here, but for what is elsewhere a challenge is for this small kingdom just another fresh opportunity. Wasserwoningen, or dwellings on the water, do not emerge from the heads of architects, but from real life. The market is already adjusting itself so that instead of purchasing a building plot, people now acquire square metres of water surface. Currently 110 amphibious houses are planned in Amsterdam, while construction of the Citadel in Westland is scheduled to start in 2010. Groningen, is set to develop into a ‘blue city’ on the water, and almost 40 houses have already been completed in Maasbommel. Demand is no weaker than the yearning for a floating house. In Amsterdam, for example, just who is permitted to live on the water will have to be decided by lot. For romantics, drop-outs or the well-off, whether they can now lies in the hands of fate.
Water was the beginning of everything, even for William Katavolos (born in 1924). For this avantgardiste architect, water is more than just as surface on which solid structures can be built. Katavolos is a visionary, dreaming not simply of life on the water, but of life with water. He has devised novel liquid-based building materials and structures on the hydronic principle. His provocative ideas, among them ‘liquid’ villas and cities, have been described as the “science fiction of architecture”. These are structures that fold up under the pressure of air or water and then re-erect themselves. Katavalos, who studied industrial design and is Professor of Architecture at the Pratt School of Architecture in New York, has been concerned with water for five decades. He has drawn analogies for his ideas from the structure of human skin, among other things. Katavalos, of whom it is said that he had already developed the basic idea of nano technology back in the 1960s, is regarded even today as the pioneer of organic designs; whose fundamentals he advanced in the late 1950s as a programme in words and pictures in his book “Organics”. Science fiction, vision, or one day, reality? One adherent of his ideas once said that he was impressed by these. Man, after all, is 65% composed of water – and yet he can stand upright.