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In A Flood, This Amphibious House Starts To Float

Instead of building houses on stilts, it might make more sense to just build houses that turn into boats.

Thanks to climate change, some of the world’s rainiest places are likely to get rainier–and more likely to flood. In the U.K., where intense rainfall led to floods that caused over $1.5 billion in damages last year, architects have come up with an answer: An amphibious house that starts to float when water levels rise.

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Built on a small island in the Thames River, the house was designed to replace a family home originally built on stilts. Because of rising flood levels, the house wasn’t high enough–but because it happened to be in a conservation area with special regulations, it wasn’t possible to build something taller. Getting permits for a floating house wasn’t possible, either. Instead, the architects found a solution in the middle.

The three-story house, made from lightweight timber, sits on a floating concrete hull. When the river floods, the house is designed to rise up in its dock, held in place by guideposts at each side. Here’s a clip of it in action:

Construction finished this month, just in time for another season of heavy rains.

The house wasn’t easy to build. Ironically, part of the problem was the terrible weather.

“Water is by far the biggest enemy of the construction industry,” says Ruth Deans from Baca Architects, the firm that designed the house. “Inclement weather often slows down building work, but in our case as the U.K. experience one of its worst winters in memory, it completely halted all progress.”

Building an amphibious house–especially on an island, where everything has to be transported by boat–was also difficult. “It was by far the hardest site our firm has ever faced,” Deans says. “As the house weighs the equivalent of 170 cars, lifting it was a particularly unique challenge.”

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The amphibious design is about 25% more expensive than building a house with a normal foundation. Still, the architects argue that it’s a reasonable solution for more houses in floodplains, and maybe even entire communities.

“Amphibious construction to date has only been used in small buildings, but it has the potential to overcome flood risk on a much larger scale by creating whole floating platforms, or even floating villages and towns,” says Deans. “This could provide a cost effective solution to regenerating or preserving important sites where relocating residents and communities would have dire social and economic consequences.”

But should we be rebuilding houses on flood-prone places at all? For Baca Architects, which has used different waterproofing techniques to design for places like the Netherlands and New Orleans, the answer seems to be yes. The firm recently wrote a new book illustrating their theories on how buildings and cities can be designed to live with water.

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About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley.

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