These floating homes could protect people from flooding as sea levels rise

Modular water dwellings developed by Grimshaw and Concrete Valley. Image: Grimshaw

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This article is part of: Virtual Ocean Dialogues
  • Climate change is increasing sea levels, leaving hundreds of millions of people facing floods.
  • A new type of floating home could help guard against rising waters, say its designers.
  • Urgent action is needed to keep global temperatures within climate targets.

To protect people living in areas prone to flooding and rising sea levels, a group of architects has designed a floating home.

The project is a collaboration between British architect firm Grimshaw and Dutch manufacturer Concrete Valley. Currently at the design stage, the dwellings will be constructed using a concrete and glass framework, which sits on a floating pontoon structure. A protective lower deck forms part of the living space. In the event of a tidal surge or flooding, the pontoon rises with the water level to keep the home safe.

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Fitted with solar panels and heat exchangers, the water dwellings will be able to generate their own electricity and withstand mains power outages, in the event of a storm.

The affordable structures could be mass-produced. Image: Grimshaw

Construction is modular, enabling an assembly-line approach to mass production, with components durable and flexible enough to create several different designs.

Output can be scaled up while keeping costs down, which could make the affordable flood-proof housing units available on a vast scale, the architects say. Waterside factory production would enable the completed homes to be transported by boat to their mooring site.

The life aquatic

Other firms are exploring floating homes, too. In the UK, Baca Architects has partnered with manufacturer Floating Homes. Their design was originally an entry to a competition to reduce London’s housing shortage, and has since been turned into a prototype.

Baca Architects is exploring ways to provide practical, affordable, flood-resistant additional city housing, which could occupy redundant docks, canals and other waterways throughout London, director Richard Coutts told the Guardian.

While floating homes may be a common feature in parts of Asia and other developing regions, they are emerging as a way to relieve overcrowding in busy cities and urban areas prone to flooding.

With land values at a premium in some places, water-based dwellings could offer a more affordable alternative. The ocean is already reclaiming land in some parts of the world, as rising seas increase the risk of flooding.

Under pressure

As the planet’s atmosphere warms, areas such as the Arctic are melting fast. NASA’s satellite imagery shows that on average, Alaskan glaciers disappeared at an annual rate of 46 gigatons between 2003 and 2010, contributing to rising sea levels.

 Global cumulative sea level rise 1998-2015 Published by Statista Research Department, Sep 4, 2016  This statistic displays the cumulative global sea level rise from 1998 to 2015, relative to 1997 levels. The cumulative seal level rise amounted to approximately 54.7 millimeters worldwide in 2014 based on this baseline. Cumulative rise in sea level worldwide from 1998 to 2015 (in millimeters)
Sea levels are rising. Image: Statista

In 2014, the cumulative global sea level rose by approximately 54.7mm above 1997 levels. And with emissions continuing to increase, this trend looks set to continue.

A recent study published in Nature Communications predicts that around 200 million people could be living below the high-tide line by the end of this century. Over the next 30 years, rising seas could bring chronic flooding to the homes of more than 300 million people.

While floating dwellings may prove effective against increased flooding, they may not be an option for some people in poorer parts of the developing world.

Rising to the challenge

With the global population set to reach 9.8 billion people by mid-century, extreme flooding could further strain limited land, water, food and other resources. Research by the National Oceanography Centre (NOC) forecasts that failure to keep global temperatures within 2℃ of pre-industrial levels could leave the world facing annual costs of around $14 trillion.

These challenges are at the heart of the Virtual Ocean Dialogues, an initiative by the World Economic Forum and Friends of Ocean Action. The online event provides a forum for more than 50 world leaders to address the most pressing challenges facing our oceans and develop ways to protect, maintain, and keep them healthy and resilient.

Thriving oceans are a critical part of the planetary ecosystem, but the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports that waters are becoming ever warmer, more acidic and less productive. While innovations such as floating houses could help tackle rising water levels, urgent action is needed to address the underlying causes of climate change before a tipping point is reached which could threaten the survival of all species living in, on or beside the water.


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OceanClimate ChangeSustainable Development
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