Living on water rather than fighting it.
For centuries, in a country where half the land is below sea level, the Dutch have been waging a war on water by building dams, dykes, water-pumps and windmills. But now, lack of space – the Netherlands is one of the most densely populated countries in the world -and rising water levels due to climate change are calling for a change of strategy. For the past three years, Fons and Marianne van Raak have spent each summer in their amphibious house on the river Maas. “We’ve a normal heater, and normal warm water, it’s just like a normal house, that’s very good to live in and it’s very safe,” says Marianne van Raak. The van Raak’s home is one of 46 amphibious and floating homes built in the village of Maasbommel, 100 southeast of Amsterdam. This was one of the worst affected areas in the last great flood to hit the Netherlands in 1995. Now, it is home to a whole new, flood-resistant neighbourhood: these houses can rise along with water levels, by as much as 5.5 meters. The concept is simple, says the designer, Ger Kengen of Factor Architecten: “It’s a concrete box and this concrete box has on top a wood timber frame. The top is light and the bottom is heavy. When the water comes the concrete box would start to float, that’s the whole principle. We have two mooring poles which are on front and back which allow the house to go up and down in a straight vertical way”. For centuries, the Dutch have built on reclaimed land called ‘polders’, protected by a complex network of dykes, canals and windmill-driven pumps, in a constant battle to hold back the water. Now they are starting to let in water, conscious that their time-honoured methods of defence won’t be enough to beat frequent flooding due to climate change. “The key thing is that we’re finding new ways as multifunctional uses of the water, where you don’t have to choose between space for people or space for the river, but rather space for the river and for people. We really have to work a little bit harder to come up with solutions that will benefit more people than these few houses that have now been made in Maasbommel,” says Jeroen Warner, a researcher at the University of Wageningen. However, measures to deal with the rise of water also have a strong social impact. Not far from Maasbommel, inhabitants of Ooijpolder recently fought and won a battle against flood protection plans involving the controlled flooding of so-called “calamity polders”. Under the project, their villages would have been flooded in order to spare more heavily populated areas. But the dykes and pumping stations protecting their homes are still in place. “We live here the same way other people live in their places. We have strong dykes and we are not afraid of the water,” says resident Harry Sandes. The UN has warned that in the coming century rainfall in the Netherlands could increase by up to 25 percent and sea levels could rise by more than a meter. The amphibious homes are just the first of many ambitious projects which also include the creation of artificial islands.