Buying overseas: Splash out

In Holland, floating houses are beating the floods. Fancy taking the plunge? Laura Latham reports
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The Independent Online

Climate change may mean that the kind of rain that caused this summer’s floods could become commonplace, and all eyes are now turning to radical housing developments being built in Holland.

Around 20 per cent of Holland is below sea level and those levels are predicted to rise over the next century due to heavier, more frequent rain, making some dykes (sea walls) less effective.

Local architects and the government have therefore been working on designing homes that will, literally, go with the flow. A new suburb of 12,000 houses is planned for the Ijberg region near Schiphol airport, east of Amsterdam, and an initial 600 of them are intended to be waterborne.

These will be normal family homes with fully functioning kitchens and bathrooms, except they will be able to float.

The intention, according to Dr Chris Zevenbergen of the University of Delft, is to build properties that are fixed to the land in a flood plain via a system of poles that will enable the houses to rise with any flood water.

The properties will be built from concrete shells and will have large, hollow cellars that take in water and rise. “It’s more efficient,” says Dr Zevenbergen.“

It saves land and creates unique communities that offer a combination of added value and aesthetics.” Construction will start within two years with a projected completion date of five years.

The building firm De Peyler is also constructing chaletstyle properties in Ijberg and in areas of northern Holland, with seven to 41 properties to a community. These are more traditional and offer a reasonable amount of living space, measuring between 185 and 200 square metres. De Peyler’s homes are made from hollow concrete filled with polystyrene that allows them to float. The homes start from £220,000 for a four-bedroom family home; being located nearer to Amsterdam costs another £350,000.

These kind of properties can be costly, according to the architect Art Zaaijer, because there are additional costs in connecting utilities and creating infrastructure.

Zaaijer’s floating aluminium dwellings are built to offer spacious and light interiors that maximise reflections off the water. They are also designed to be eco-friendly because of restrictions on allowing waste or toxins to leak into the water. They also have pitched roofs designed to accommodate solar panels.

Zaaijer is a sceptic when it comes to the viability of floating residences, however. “It is always more complicated and expensive than anyone expects. I have little faith in this being a solution in the long term,” he says. “Holland has six million homes below sea level and one of the densest populations in Europe. We can’t build the amount of houses we need on water. Most large areas of water here are protected nature reserves where building isn’t possible.”

The German city of Hamburg is also floating its first flotilla of aquatic dwellings on its vast harbour. Floating

Homes designs and sells water houses from £210,000, which are sought after by trendy urbanites. “It was important to find a new design for living on water,” says Martin Förster, an agent. “Now we’re involved in projects in Switzerland and Russia. Hamburg is also constructing a floating congress building and floating hotels.”

Water dwellings could be the shape of things to come. “There will be a demand for this type of house in future,” says Dr Zevenbergen. “We have had a lot of interest from Britain but it depends on local conditions to see if this type of dwelling is feasible and whether people are interested in living in them.”

De Peyler: +31 229 28 27 26;

Dura Vermeer Group:

Floating Homes +494 04 14 23 00;

Art Zaaijer: +31 204 19 03 00;