The Dutch Way, Venice Biennale 2012
Bringing Holland’s floating communities to London’s waterways
: British Pavilion, Venice
The British Council selected dRMM as one of a group of architects to participate in the 13th Venice Architecture Biennale, in 2o12. Curated by David Chipperfield, the theme was “Common Ground”. The ten chosen ‘explorers’ were set a brief to examine different parts of the world in search of intellectual solutions to universal architectural problems.
dRMM’s project team travelled to Amsterdam to study floating housing, and explore the possibilities for floating communities to improve climate resilience in the UK.
Predicting that it will not be possible to indefinitely combat water due to rising sea-levels, the Dutch are now re-flooding tracts of land that were historically reclaimed from the sea for building purposes. This process is called ‘de-polderisation’. By building floating houses rather than houses on piles , housing stock is future proofed.
We looked at IJburg,a floating housing community primarily designed by Marlies Rohmer Architects, with additional structures being self-built by private owners. Through surveying water infrastructure generally, and floating housing in Amsterdam specifically, the ‘treasure’ we wanted to bring back to the UK was Dutch design knowledge – a globally unique combination of practical hydraulic engineering and lateral strategic thinking.
At IJburg, houses are prefabricated in a dry dock, with an average construction time of 10 weeks, then floated to their ‘final’ destination.
The width of the houses are dictated by the width of the locks, which in turn determines the height. Once the house arrives at its final destination, it is docked to two piles that are fixed to the ground, designating its mooring location.
The “Dutch Way” creates a series of new, floating neighbourhoods that provide an alternative model for living that might offer a tangible solution, at least in part, to London’s housing crisis. Land may be scarce, but throughout London, along the Thames, its tributaries and the wider canal system, there are waterways that could accommodate a variety of housing stock and increase density by using existing infrastructure.
We suggested the creation of new floating neighborhood ‘incubators’ to be tested at Royal Victoria Dock, London and at other potential sites in the Thames Estuary. These would activate some of the most charming areas of London – the canals.
In the UK as a whole, waterways offer a huge potential for tackling issues in housing shortage, transport infrastructure and urban density. Floating architecture also offers answers to the topical question of what to do with flood zones.