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Floating Cities

Almost a third of the Netherlands lies below sea level, and over the centuries the country has developed a highly efficient flood-defence system. The tragic floods of 1953, caused by a storm surge and exceptionally spring tides, led to a range of modern-day engineering solutions as well as a heightened awareness in Dutch society of the dangers of sea level rise. But when, in the mid 1990s, unusually heavy rain in Belgium and Germany caused the Rhine and the Meuse to breach their banks and hundreds of thousands of people had to be evacuated, it was clear that long-term action would have to be taken to protect against flooding from river water as well. The government has now launched a wide ranging programme of adaptation schemes to protect the coasts from sea level and to create ‘Room for the River’, by establishing unobstructed spaces into which the major rivers can safely overflow

The design of the floating city is a new way of looking at the Netherlands with more water.

Johan van der Pol, Deputy Director Dura Vermeer

Under the programme, building in flood-prone areas near rivers is to be prohibited. But this is likely to put a lot of pressure on the housing situation in an already densely populated country.

The village of Maasbommel in central eastern Netherlands is the site of a pilot housing project, in which the construction company Dura Vermeer has been trying out its new designs for ‘floating urbanisation’. The village of Masbommel is an ideal location because it is regularly exposed to high water levels and as a result the underlying ground is becoming less stable. Today, there are already 32 houses with an amphibious design that float when the water rises and 12 houses which float all the time.

Floating urbanization is compatible with another important sustainability goal – energy use and water storage. Water is very good at absorbing and retaining heat from the sun, so this energy can be used for heating and cooling floating buildings. When the sea level rises and salt water penetrates further inland via the rivers and groundwater, the country’s fresh water supply comes under wide-scale pressure: floating buildings can contain their own fresh-water supplies to avoid this problem. Building on water also provides a safe haven for residents living in flood prone areas.

The concept of floating houses is not only to adapt to climate change but also to help mitigate it. DeltaSync, a company specializing in sustainable urban development in delta areas, is designing floating houses that will be CO2 neutral. They will be built from green materials, and be heated or cooled by their surroundings – solar power from the sun, and heat and cold storage from the different layers of water. And already many of the largest municipalities in the Netherlands are looking into how they can plan their developments in this way.

"Building on water is not only a good idea for the Netherlands; it can be a global solution." Carina Czapiewska DeltaSync

The vision of the Netherlands’ innovative architects and planners is to build entire floating cities with floating infrastructures – roads, shops, parks as well as homes. The concept is catching on as it can be adapted to anywhere in the world, but especially where there are deltas vulnerable to flooding or islands at risk of disappearing under the sea.

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European Environment Agency (EEA)
Kongens Nytorv 6
1050 Copenhagen K
Denmark
Phone: +45 3336 7100