Are Sustainable Floating Houses Really Affordable?

Published on: 25 May 2022 12:00 PM
by KnowESG
amsterdam canal

Residents of Schoonschip are living in what some see as a climate-resilient future of urban housing. The neighbourhood is designed to rise with the water level of Amsterdam's Johan van Hasselt canals and estuaries, and sits on the banks of the city's northern canal. But are they really affordable?

Just off the bank of the northern Johan van Hasselt canal lies Schoonschip, a floating neighbourhood designed to rise with the water level.

"Imagine making houses float: You combine the storm-water buffering with the potential of creating new residential areas? Then the residential areas are, from their conception, climate proof." This was the plan for Schoonschip, whose first residents - called "Schoonschippers" - began inhabiting their floating houses in December, 2018.

The neighbourhood has become home to 46 households, connected by floating platforms to each other and to shore. A home in the community costs 20 per cent more than a comparable one on solid ground - with options between €300,000 and €800,000, according to news reports, compared to the national average of €428,000 - to account for the costs associated with making the homes float, installing solar panels and backup batteries, and implementing sewage systems.

"You have to see Schoonschip as a nice step in the evolution of floating cities as they become more sustainable," says Koen Olthuis, founder of the architecture firm Waterstudio, which contributed to the design of Schoonschip and has led projects to design floating homes and neighbourhoods around the world.

Mr. Pawlowski -adjunct associate professor of urban design and urban planning- is concerned that private floating homes could exacerbate inequalities that already exist in cities, where low-income residents are the most vulnerable, and thus, worst affected by floods and other environmental disasters.

"It's not as exciting as floating cities, but I think we need to help people find housing options on safe, high ground," Mr. Pawlowski says.

For now, with floating, climate-resilient homes in Schoonschip neither affordable nor widely available, the neighbourhood's designer says it remains a climate solution reserved for the wealthy. There, houses will cost upward of $320,000, a price point developers hope is affordable enough to draw interest from both tourists and locals, even though the floating homes would still be more expensive than some housing options in the nearby capital of Male.

Mr. Olthuis says he hopes floating homes will soon be a real solution for the millions of people who live in flood-prone cities around the world.

Source: The Globe and Mail