Typical amphibious houses, like the two-story ones on the Maas, consist a structure that slides into a steel framework over a hollow foundation which, like the hull of a ship, buoys up the building when water enters.
The Maas houses sell from $310,000, about 25 percent more than equivalent homes, in part due to the cost of connecting them to utilities and drainage. But Olthuis says such linkages are simple and present no inconvenience to owners.
“Just proven technology of plug-and-play systems. All tested and used for years in Holland,” he says.
“The only time you will see a difference between a floating house and the traditional one is during floods — when your house rises above the water and your neighbor’s stays put,” Olthuis says.
Along similar lines will be Britain’s first amphibious house, recently granted planning permission along the banks of the Thames River in Buckinghamshire. The 225-square-meter (2,421-square-foot) home will be able to rise to 2.5 meters (8.2 feet) in the event of flooding.
Thai architect Chutayaves Sinthuphan, who will be unveiling a pilot amphibious house for the Thai government in September, says interest in such projects has grown since last year’s floods, which killed more than 600 people and affected more than a fifth of the country’s 64 million people.
“We have had proposals out for some time, but nobody paid much attention to them until the floods came,” he says.
His Site-Specific Company has already built such houses for private clients, using modern techniques and materials but like other architects in Asia looking to a past when communities adapted well to annual monsoon season inundations.
They point to a riverside village in the southern province of Surat Thani, where everyone lived on homes atop bamboo rafts until all but three families moved on land. Those three homes were the only ones that survived last year’s floods.
In the mid-19th century, almost all of Bangkok lived on houses built atop stilts or rafts. Since then, most canals have been paved over and the stilt houses replaced by a concrete urbanscape that holds water back instead of allowing it to flow through.
Architect Prisdha Jumsai has borrowed from traditional methods to design Thailand’s first hospital for the aged. Work has begun on the 300-bed hospital over a permanently flooded area near Bangkok that is also subject to tides from the nearby Gulf of Thailand. Concrete stilts will raise its first floor about 4 meters (13 feet) above average water levels.
“We hope this will influence people not to just fill in land but to build on water. I think it will open up new ideas for Thais who can look to traditional architecture and make it more up-to-date in design,” Prisdha says.
But this still appears to be a minority view.
“Most Thais look to Western, land-based models and most architects still don’t talk about environmental concerns. They talk about how a house will look and make you feel good,” says Danai. “But this will have to change. It’s about survival.”