UK “amphibious house” tackles flood threat in a new way

As the threats posed by global warming and the associated extreme weather patterns become more urgent by the day, home designers are racing to find ways of building houses that can stand up to natural disasters. UK design firm Baca Architects' answer to this challenge presents an interesting reversal of the usual paradigm of "resistance": Their new design for an "amphibious house" on the River Thames will lift off its foundations and float in case of a flood.

Richard Coutts, co-founder of the firm, emphasized this more passive strategy in an interview with Dezeen Magazine: "Rather than building flood defences, [The LifE Project] considers a different approach, to acknowledge man cannot beat nature and to actually make space for water."

The house, which is currently in construction on a flood-prone island near Marlow in Buckinghamshire, is designed to work essentially the same way as a boat in a dock. The home is made from extra-lightweight materials, and its "dock" is a sort of case made of steel and mesh that allows water to enter. Since the house weighs less than the equivalent volume of water, physics dictates that during a flood, when water flows into the dock, it will raise the house up along guiding stilts that keep the structure in place. This acquiescence to the power of water ensures that all the possessions and living space in the home are kept safely above flood level and out of harm's way. 

The design also makes use of the garden for what Coutts calls an "intuitive landscape" — when two of the terraces fill with water, it is a sign to the residents that the house will begin rising soon. All of these strategies draw from the relatively new school of "aquatecture", which does not try to protect the home from water but rather uses water to enhance both its form and function. This combination of scientific savvy with heightened awareness of the power of nature may be the next step in moving beyond merely energy efficient homes and toward homes that are fully integrated with their natural surroundings.