Making Waves with Aquatecture

Making Waves with Aquatecture

Faced with rising costs, reduced options for new builds, and the increased difficulty of planning for the future, companies and prospective renters or homeowners find themselves in difficult times. With adversity producing opportunity, the burgeoning field of Aquatecture is making huge headway as an attractive alternate proposition for companies looking for opportunities in the market, or individuals looking for a unique property.

So, what is Aquatecture and why has it continued to gather momentum over the last few years?

What is Aquatecture?

Described as ‘floating architecture’, Aquatecture is simply that; design and build work that incorporates and draws strength and inspiration from the environment. The RIBA describes the field as being characterised by: “a water-centric approach to design in which flood-risk management, development pressure and adaptation to climate change are simultaneously reconciled to allow buildings and cities to live and work with water.” As with all architecture, the field seeks to find harmony between contemporary builds and nature in an innovative way.

Practically, this encompasses the following:

– The construction of floating (or wholly amphibious) structures: These are buildings that may have a submerged basement on land or be wholly floating and tethered by walkways, jetties, or other fastenings. Many designs marry the two securing structures to the shoreline providing a hybrid-build design.

– Buildings with elevated supports: These ‘stilted’ designs rest above the water and prevent the build from being affected by rising water levels or flooding. Recent designs often deploy dynamically raising supports that can elevate the house to accommodate variable water levels, empowering structures to adapt to the aftermath of heavy rainfall, or the eventual effects of global warming.

– Water (wet/dry) proofed structures: These buildings are treated and sealed to be fully water resistant. These are most commonly used on structures based on shorelines or near bodies of water – allowing buildings to be fully proofed against the wear and tear of coastal living.

– Novel approaches to waterfront builds and designs: Aquatecture is indelibly tied into global concerns about sustainability and innovation. Many of the most interesting concepts and designs focus on cutting-edge pitches such as a proposal to place the houses of parliament on the Thames that sees individuals live in fully modular homes that can be literally split down the middle and float away from each other.

living near water: Venice, Italy

While modern approaches to Aquatecture are novel, the field builds on a long history of floating architecture, homes, and houses throughout the past. However, modern companies are increasingly being seen to adopt and iterate on these tried and tested practices to find the perfect balance between modern builds and the demands of nature.

What does Aquatecture look like?


For many, this is the quintessential piece of Aquatecture. Frank Lloyd Wright’s opus was designed in 1935 and erected in the wilds of Bear Run, Pennsylvania. Setting ‘uniting man and nature’ as one of his key goals, Wright designed a home cantilevered directly over the site’s iconic falls. His design revolved around a series of stacked trays built around a connecting pillar that allowed the structure to organically step around and above the racing waters. This led to an open design that revolved around numerous floor to ceiling windows that accommodated sunlight and encouraged individuals to step outside and witness the falls in person; two of the core tenets of contemporary Aquatecture.

The Salk Institute

Designed by Louis Khan in 1960 and completed in 1965 the building rests on the lip of the Pacific Ocean in coastal LA. Based on a monastic design, Salk intended the structure to be a holistic retreat for the research practitioners, but also brought in considerations for living sustainably so close to salt water. The structure’s brutalist materials were a concession to the practicalities of being next to the shoreline, with the structure primarily made from concrete, glass, and steel. Despite this pragmatism, a stream of flowing water threads through the courtyard in a contemplative concession to nature with a connecting bridge; with numerous lightwells and open-glass building fronts continuing the trend of bringing the inside, out.

WaterWoningen Amsterdam

Considered in contrast to Wright and Salk’s works, Amsterdam’s WaterWoningen highlights how practical contemporary Aquatecture can be. Built in Steigereiland, IJburg and finished in 2011 the structure is made up of 75 connected individual builds for rent and ownership on the waterfront. Designed by Marlies Rohmer to encourage a feeling of unity, the site is easily accessible from the land through movable bridges. Each building was prefabricated off-site and quickly assembled – diving into the country’s history and expertise of living on and building on water – to help provide a desirable solution to Holland’s call for modern housing; with the project marrying on-the-water romanticism with pragmatic, spacious living quarters where occupants can feed birds from their bedroom window.

WaterWoningen, Amsterdam

How is it helpful for the everyday buyer?

For many companies, the loftiness of Frank Lloyd Wright may appear costly but many new designs and practices place emphasis on managing cost-effectiveness and the speed of build.

This includes placing an emphasis on:

Prefabrication: Many contemporary designs are constructed off-site and brought to the site location by truck or road, depending on the degree of access. This means that materials can be quickly and efficiently transported, and an experienced team can construct a building in a fraction of the time it would take a bricks-and-mortar building to reach completion. This not only allows for a greater deal of customisation for the structure, but that any tweaks and changes can be deployed at reduced cost.

Affordability: The majority of materials provided for builds are not only cost-effective but allow teams to considerably save on the cost of land-based site work. For example, projections by some UK based companies place a value of up to 40% on established London Prices for water or shoreline based work. And once a build is complete, access to photovoltaic panels, tidal and/or wind energy can allow additional savings on renewable energy for the owner and act as a soft draw for economically conscious tenants or boarders.

Future proofed design: With global warming projected to cause £1 trillion worth of global damage to coastal properties and homes by 2050, ensuring that homes are properly prepared is vital. With sustainability at its core, Aquatecture’s focus on ‘bluespace’ sites allow an opening up of a new market, and ensuring it is protected and viable for decades to come.

The challenges of building near water

What challenges are being tackled?

Building on or near bodies of water carries a complex suite of problems, and teams have worked to mitigate these risks and help protect homes.

These include:

Handling Water Ingress: With sea levels rising three times as fast since the 90s climate change is a real and existential threat for all businesses and potential occupants. Proactive approaches like stilted designs can help to dynamically raise or lower properties to actively combat environmental change. And some designs encourage the use of a ‘rain garden’ to help counteract flooding and pollution by redirecting precipitate from the roofs of properties to being filtered through the soil. Helping to bring natural beauty to urban environments, they act as a draw for buyers or prospective homeowners looking for an additional touch of nature.

Mitigating Wear and Tear: Any construction carried out near or on water brings the challenge of weathering caused by the environment. Erosion to supports is mitigated through deploying treated or decay-proof materials, and all elements of the finished structure are chosen for their resistance to exposure to salt or freshwater. In addition, Aquatecture’s commitment to supporting the environment has led to extensive research being conducted around projects to determine their effect on local biodiversity. Findings report that builds actually help to support biodiversity through the creation of new places where sea creatures can congregate, birds safely nest; helping to strengthen the food chain as a consequence.

Incorporating Flexibility: Contemporary Aquatecture’s embracing of modular design practice and build strategy allows projects to be customised to a high degree and be reactive to new technologies entering the market. Choosing to work on bodies of water also opens new development opportunities, with urbanised areas like London having over 50 miles of canals and waterways that can be repurposed.

Flexibility: repurposing canals and waterways

If you want to learn more about Aquatecture, you can take a look at RIBA’s latest publication ‘Aquatecture: Buildings and cities designed to live and work with water’ to take more of a deep dive into a fascinating new frontier.So, what next?

Alternatively, if you are interested in learning more about our innovative solutions, contact our team directly at and let us know how we can support your build.

Aquatecture, Architecture, Off-Site


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